Developer Interview: Dragons vs. Spaceships

Shoot’em-ups have a rich tradition in video games, but in recent years innovation in the genre often gives way to just spamming the screen with more bullets.  Chris Brousseau of Game Production Studios is hoping he can rise to the challenge of differentiating with his Dream-Build-Play and Summer Indie Uprising entry Dragons vs. Spaceships.  Although the concept of using dragons in a shump isn’t entirely original, Chris promises key innovations and easy accessibility in his game.

Kairi Vice: Vertical-scrolling bullet hell games are all over the marketplace, indie or otherwise.  Why choose such an over-represented genre for your entry in Dream-Build-Play and Summer Indie Uprising?

Chris Brousseau: I believe that the best way to making video games is to make a game that you yourself will enjoy.  If someone else likes it too, then that’s fantastic, and if not, then at least you’ve made one person happy. So when my buddy or my siblings came over and we were bored, I would always browse the Arcade section for co-op games.  There’s some cool ones out there, but sometimes I don’t want to spend 10 bucks for a few hours of fun.  So that’s when I started going to the Indie section.

I found Zombie Estate and loved it, so I thought, there’s gotta be more cool 2 player co-op games that are good on here!  No such luck, there were a few but none that I was interested in. Yes, the market is over-saturated with shmups, but really, what I wanted was to just blow some things up with someone, while listening to some awesome music and using some cool powers.  So that’s what we did.

Kairi Vice: You’ve promised that DvS would “put a new spin on old conventions.”  Can you explain what that is?

Chris Brousseau: Sure, the spin is, the drops that come down work basically like Gunstar Heroes, so you have 3 different elements, and you can combine 2 of them to create your special for a total of 6 different specials.  One of the specials is you grab a ship in this electric grip and you can swing them around in circles and throw them at other ships, its actually really fun.  So for that skill you would combine say Electricity and Metal.  The fun people have been having with it is experimenting with which special they like in certain situations, and then trying to make sure that once they get to that part again in the game, they are ready for the situation, equipped with the best special ready to unleash complete destruction.

And then the other part of the game that makes it conventional is that you always have 2 weapons, a primary weapon and then your special.  So your primary weapon is based on your first element.   Let’s say its electricity and metal, the A  button will shoot a forward firing weapon, an electrical one, that can upgrade by picking up level up drops.  So this makes it so you always have a neat special and a forward firing weapon to unleash carnage with. Its also very easy to play if you are new to the genre or old.  If you are new then the A button shoots forward and B is for special, simple enough.  But if you know the genre and want the highest score possible, then you have to learn which combinations make which special, and then which ones to use at the right times.

Also the game is 2 player co-op which is always fun.  I know its been done before, but I haven’t played a good 2 player Shmup since Ikaruga so it was nice to make one that we actually like to play.

Kairi Vice: I assume someone on your staff played the 1987 arcade “classic” Dragon Spirit?  You know, everyone in the media is going to call Dragons vs. Spaceships a “spiritual successor” to it, whether you like it or not.

Chris Brousseau: That would be great!  It was a great game at the time, and its a classic so we would be honored to be called its spiritual successor, we actually went back to that game to see how they did certain things.  Like collision, at first we counted the wings as a hit, but then the game was ridiculously hard, so we took a look at what Dragon Spirit did, and they didn’t count the wings.

So we tried the game without the wings being collidable and even though it was still hard, we could actually get passed the first level, so that was a good change.

Kairi Vice: An eight-person staff is working on DvS.  What challenges did you face putting your team together?

Chris Brousseau: Who makes the decisions.  It’s definitely a struggle when you have eight people, and all eight have their own opinions.  In the end, the way we figured things out was the only way we knew how, try it, prove if it works or not, and then move on by either implementing that change, or just ripping it out.

Kairi Vice: How long as DvS been in production?

Chris Brousseau:  Since about January 2011, but that’s all of us working part-time on it as we all have full-time paying jobs as well.

Kairi Vice: With so many original concepts entered into Dream-Play-Build and Indie Uprising, do you believe having something from an over-represented genre like Dragons vs. Spaceships might hurt your chances at recognition?

Chris Brousseau: Probably, but we think the game is pretty fun and polished so we will see. As I stated earlier, all I wanted was to make a cool and fun game that I would enjoy, and we accomplished that together, many of the other members in the group also enjoy playing the game with their siblings or friends.

Kairi Vice: You previously have released a game for Windows Phone called Crescer. What lessons did you learn in it’s development?

Chris Brousseau:  The WP7 game called Crescer was actually built by 2 of our members in the team, and the one thing that we all learned from that, is that making a game with 2 people, is much easier than making a game with 8.

Kairi Vice: Assuming you don’t win Dream-Build-Play and all the publicity from Microsoft (ha) that comes with that, do you feel that long term DvS might find a better market and earn more money on the wireless market?

Chris Brousseau:  Not on the Windows 7 Phone market, I actually think it could do alright on Steam.  We’ve talked about it.  We will see what the reception is on the Xbox first.

Kairi Vice: You’re part of the Summer Indie Uprising, so I have to ask what games you’re most looking forward to playing, or what are your favorite games that you’ve already played from it?

Chris Brousseau: That’s easy, I’m a big fan of Mario Kart and Dirchie Kart – World Tour looks pretty fun, another good one is The Jump Hero, I just love those games and that one looks pretty neat.

Kairi Vice: Were there any games that didn’t make the cut that you felt deserved a spot in the top 25?

Chris Brousseau: All Your Creeps.  That game looks pretty cool, I like those types of games so I would probably want to try that one out.

Kairi Vice: What is the biggest challenge with working with XNA and the XBLIG platform?

Chris Brousseau:  Optimizing, first time we put DvS on the Xbox it ran at 2 frames per second, what a nightmare.  But we got it going at a full 60 now so its all good.  But those were a terrible 2 weeks, we learned a lot during those 2 weeks getting the game to run at 60 FPS.

Kairi Vice: Do you feel that issues with quality control on the indie marketplace (for example, anything from Silver Dollar Games) drags down the entire platform for everyone that actually puts effort into making good, professional quality games?

Chris Brousseau:  Yes and no, there’s the Top Downloads section and Highest Rated, so the great games are usually in there.  Some people just want to make money on the platform, and some people want to make cool games.  Hopefully some people get to make money from making those cool games.

The only way around quality control is for people to speak with their wallets really, buy the good games, don’t buy the ones you think are terrible and those bad games will just stop being made.

Kairi Vice: If you could change one thing about the XBLIG platform, what would it be?

Chris Brousseau:  More advertising of some sort.  We would love to see Microsoft do what Steam is doing for the Indie guys.  Every week the Xbox has a “Deal of the Week” so why don’t they try to put one Indie game in there every week, picked by Microsoft, and make sure its a game that’s good?  That’s all they really need to do.

I know people say Achievements, but that would be a disaster, if Microsoft added achievements to the Indie section then it would get abused.  Maybe if they added achievements but they weren’t worth points, that would be neat.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

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