Developer Interview: Speedruner HD

Casper van Est has a challenge on hand.  The 26-year-old game design teacher at the University of Applied Science in Amsterdam is converting his smash-hit browser game Speedrunner for the Xbox 360 indie marketplace.  The flash-based version has been played over three million times since it’s launch earlier this year.  Now van Est and his DoubleDutch Games studio are hoping to hit big in the 2011 Dream-Build-Play contest and the Summer Indie Uprising.  I spoke with him today.

Kairi Vice: Speedrunner HD started life as a free flash-based browser game.  Do you think the stigma of the quality of such games (IE they usually suck) will hurt it’s sales?

Casper van Est: Hopefully not of course! To the contrary, we actually think that the flash game will help the sales of the full game. We feel that the reason a lot of XBLIG games haven’t been selling as good as they could is because of lack of promotion. It’s really difficult to get noticed in a crowded marketplace, even when you have a great game. The positive thing about flash games is that they can reach a really big audience. In the first month after its release, the flash version of Speedrunner has been played over 3 million times, and it’s still getting around 50,000 views each day. That’s a lot of players who’ve been in contact with Speedrunner. Now we just hope that a decent percentage of those players who liked the game also own an Xbox, or know somebody who owns an Xbox.

Kairi Vice: I played the free online version and I must say my first thought was “this would be so much better with a controller.”  So how much difference does the controller make?

Casper van Est: The controller definitely makes a difference, I can tell you it works a lot better. The quality of games like Speedrunner is heavily dependent on the controls, so it’s not a surprise it feels better with an actual controller in your hands. The game was designed with a controller in mind, and had to be simplified a bit for the browser. You see, in a flash game it’s important not to confuse the player with a lot of buttons, so I had to limit myself to using only two buttons; jump and shoot (the grappling hook). On the xbox, with a controller, the average gamer is more used to using 4 or more buttons, so that opens up a lot of actions that can now be performed. This especially helped in the multiplayer mode of the game, which has much deeper gameplay than the flash version.

Kairi Vice: A lot of entrees in the Summer Indie Uprising really think your game is something special.  How cool is that?

Casper van Est: It’s awesome! We’re really happy with the feedback we’re getting so far, both positive and negative. We’ve spent a lot of time developing this game and a lot of that time went into improving all the small details that separate good games from really good games. There are still a lot of those types of improvements to be made, but we’re confident that we can deliver a great game by the time it’ll be released. The development and release of the flash game really helped in this respect as well, as we’ve received a lot of feedback from actual players, and we gathered a lot of statistics on how they played. The lessons we’ve learned from the flash game really helpen in improving the XBLIG game.

Kairi Vice: I can practically picture the critics saying “It’s like Sonic the Hedgehog mixed with Bionic Commando.”  What really were your inspirations for Speedrunner HD?

Casper van Est: Speedrunner was inspired by a lot of other games. Sure, Sonic and Bionic Commando come to mind, but I haven’t actually played either of those games very often. It is however the best way to describe the game, or maybe “Sonic mixed with Spider-Man” would be even better. Anyway, I think Canabalt was actually a bigger inspiration; Adam Atomic (the developer of Canabalt) released his actionscript game engine Flixel, which he used to develop Canabalt, for free. We used Flixel to build the flash version of the game, and without that the game might not have existed in the first place. Using Flixel, I literally had a prototype of the game up and running within a day, so that helped enormously in the early prototyping stages of development. Other games that inspired us were Super Meat Boy, for it’s tight controls, and VVVVVV for how well it explored the use of it’s main game mechanic.

Kairi Vice: What development challenges have you faced with doing Speedrunner HD as both a flash based game and an XBLIG release?

Casper van Est: The development of the XBLIG version started when we were around 75% finished with the flash game. Because XNA is quite different from actionscript, we basically had to re-write the game from scratch. However, since the flash game was nearing completion, we already had a good idea of what we were going for, so this didn’t prove to be too difficult. While I continued finishing the flash game, Gert-Jan worked on developing the XBLIG version. This did however mean that the project would be taking a long time for it to complete. As of now, we’ve already been working on this project for about a year and a half, which is quite long for a flash or XBLIG game. So this was quite a risk, but we feel it’s been worth it so far.

Kairi Vice: I don’t know if it was my personal system or not, but I had some issues with glitches in the flash-based version of Speedrunner.  I had instances where my character would not stop rolling, some huge slowdown, and one or two questionable issues with collision detection.  How fine tuned will the XBLIG release of Speedrunner be?

Casper van Est: True, we’ve heard a lot of those types of complaints. As I said before, the XBLIG version was developed from scratch, using our own Chameleon engine. This means that all those technical issues that are in the flash game are not in the XBLIG version. I can honestly say the game runs really smooth at 60 fps without any weird collision or input malfunctions. We’ve received quite a lot of negative feedback on the flash game because of these technical issues, so we’re making especially sure that this doesn’t happen again.

Kairi Vice: As a superhero fan I love the theme for Spacerunner HD.  Did any comic artist or title influence the design of your character?

Casper van Est: The art for Speedrunner was done by Gerrit Willemse, and was definitely influenced by the Incredibles. Working with Gerrit was really awesome, as he was really quick to come up with interesting sketches and ideas. We’re definitely hoping we can work with him again on our next projects.

Kairi Vice: You’re up against some stiff competition in the Summer Indie Uprising.  What games are the ones you’ve enjoyed playing the most, and what are you most looking forward to playing from the group?

Casper van Est: I quite enjoyed playing T.E.C. 3001, a sort of 3D version of Speedrunner. For me it was especially interesting to see the similarities in their game design choices, but even more the difference in some of the choices they’ve made. I haven’t played City Tuesday yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s all about, and Train Frontier Express looks very interesting as well. It’s not the type of game I would normally play, but it looks like it’s a real quality product for their target audience.

Kairi Vice: What has proven to be the most difficult aspect of creating Speedrunner HD?

Casper van Est: Everything! Speedrunner is the first game we’ve developed as DoubleDutch Games, and there’s just so much that you have to deal with as an indie game developer, from programming and technical issues to taking difficult game design choices, running a company and doing promotion stuff. With such a small team, you really have to do everything yourself and that can be quite challenging, especially when you also want to have a social life. However, it’s all really fun to do as well, and with all the positive feedback we’re getting, I’m one of the happiest people in world right now.

Kairi Vice: How has working with the XNA platform been?  Any complaints?

Casper van Est: Working with XNA is great. Despite all the ‘issues’ surrounding the XBLIG platform, Microsoft has given developers like us a real opportunity to just go ahead and develop games! It’s so much easier now for people like us to try it out and actually have a chance at being successful at it than it was a few years ago. With competitions like Dream.Build.Play, the Winter and Summer Uprisings, review sites like yours, and the overall increased interest in Indie Games (also by the more mainstream press), the games are also receiving quite a bit of attention. This in turn allows the top developers to get a chance at developing games for XBLA or Steam and really step up their game.

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

Casper van Est: I think it would be nice if the platform was available in more countries. Right now, XBLIG is for instance not available in the Netherlands, and I have my doubts that it will ever be available here. Unfortunately, this means that our friends and family can’t download the game. In my eyes, there’s also no reason as to why XBLIG isn’t available in countries such as ours; so we’re just missing out on a big chunk of the market for no apparent reason and that’s a shame.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

2 Responses to Developer Interview: Speedruner HD

  1. Pingback: SpeedRunner HD « Indie Gamer Chick

  2. Pingback: SpeedRunner HD review (XBLIG) | xblafans.com

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