Developer Interview: James Petruzzi – Developer of Chasm

James Petruzzi of Discord Games is an Indie Gamer Chick all-star.  He has two games on the Leaderboard, the writer of the most popular Tales from the Dev Side editorial that’s been published here, and now he’s chosen to sponsor the new (and still unfinished due to laziness) XBLIG Developer Index, kicking in a whopping $200 towards Autism Speaks.  He also happens to have a very interesting looking Metroidvania coming later in 2013.  James is here to talk about his new title, called Chasm, and the trials and tribulations of making games for XBLIG.

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Cathy: Chasm is not coming to XBLIG.  Et tu, Brute?

James: Right off the bat, I haven’t decided yet.

Cathy: Oh?

James: It runs on my Xbox 360 right now, and I’m planning on keeping it that way.   But whether I release it or not, I’m not sure.

Cathy: Why not?

James: I’m not going to release it for a dollar.

Cathy: Oh.

James: My only option I feel is 400MSP, but whether people on that market would spring for it, I have no clue.

Cathy: So?

James: So?  I hear you boil developers who release games at 400MSP in oil.

Cathy: As a point of order, I did place Bleed, a 400MSP game, in my Top 10.

James: Yea, but you also boiled them in oil after that.  They’re still in bandages.

Cathy: Good game though.

James: Did the Bleed guy ever release numbers?

Cathy: Um yea, actually I just asked him.  He told me it sold 900 units on XBLIG.

James: Those numbers show the problem with XBLIG.

Cathy: Net gross of about $3,150 for the developer. Sad thing is, can’t prove it, but I bet it would have sold a couple thousand copies at 240.

James: Either way it’s still terrible for a game that high quality.

The awesomely fun Take Arms was a critical hit, but about as well received by Xbox owners as a bagpipe simulator.

The awesomely fun Take Arms was a critical hit, but about as well received by Xbox owners as a bagpipe simulator.

Cathy: What about PlayStation Mobile, where developers have huge flexibility on prices?

James: I haven’t really researched it to be honest, and I’m not sure whats all required to even get on there.

Cathy: It’s supposed to be a relatively open platform.  I don’t know.  Sony had said they would get back to me and never did.

James: So I’m just squarely focused on PC for now, I want to launch on Win/Mac/Linux and then go from there.  But if it makes money, I’ll port it to everything under the sun with a D-pad.

Cathy: I’ll look forward to the NES, Master System, and 3DO releases.

James: Hahaha!  Well, I’d consider PlayStation Network, Wii U,  and maybe 3DS or Vita releases.

Cathy: Take Arms was pretty well received by critics, but it kind of flopped in sales. 48 Chambers was good, but again, didn’t really sell well.  Is that why you’re trying to more traditional game with Chasm?

James: No, I’m actually just making it because it’s the game I’ve wanted to make since the beginning.  If you watch the Evolution of Take Arms video we put on YouTube, you’ll see that started as a Castlevania type game.  We were way too inexperienced though to deal with that much content, so we decided to make it a multiplayer game instead.  Obviously something flopped with Take Arms that’s beyond the amount of content or anything.

Cathy: Maybe it was difficult to articulate that it was a multiplayer game. There’s obviously SOME interest for those on XBLIG, as seen in the success of Shark Attack Deathmatch.  Maybe “Take Arms Deathmatch” sells 10,000 units and has a robust user base to keep it going?

James: Yea that’s definitely a possibility, but at the same time, I think you must have the right product at the right time.

Cathy: I think the big sticking point is the amount of people who play it daily. I reviewed Shark Attack Deathmatch in late December. I checked it last night, and there is still a wide variety of people playing. Then I tried Take Arms and found that nobody was playing.

James: If I would have kept up with content updates we probably could have grown a community or something around it.  But that’s the hard part with multiplayer games, and why I will probably never do one again.  With them, the community of people playing it is what gives the game value.  If you take that away, it’s basically worthless.

Cathy: I would rank my play session with Take Arms against the other XBLIG critics as one of the best times I’ve had since starting Indie Gamer Chick. Do you think maybe some form of organized tournaments might have caused it to catch on?

James: We should have focused on organizing community play dates and doing more  with it, but yeah, I guess we were just done after two years.

Chasm looks awesome.

Only the most secure-in-their-manhood blacksmiths dared to use a pink anvil.

Cathy: Okay, onto Chasm. It looks really good.  You originally intended Take Arms to be a Metroidvania, and now you’re finally doing one.  What made you decide that now you’re ready?

James: Well, to be honest, it was a last-ditch effort.  I quit my corporate job last May to focus on my next title full-time, Tim and I were talking again about doing something, which turned into this sci-fi Terraria-like called Solus.  We worked on that through may and part of June, and Tim decided he wasn’t having fun anymore and was done.  So we parted on good terms, but I was left with a big game to do by myself.  In July I basically decided to scrap it, and started working on the original version of Chasm, which was basically going to be a cash in I guess for XBLIG.  It was going to be a mining game like Miner Dig Deep, but with combat, weapons, some bosses and stuff to fight.  I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted to do a mining game for a while, but I couldn’t really tell you what I liked about them, but I think I somehow managed to cut all the fun out of it.  At some point by like September I had the engine pretty far along, but I was just hating it, I had completely forgotten why I started doing this stuff in the first place.

Cathy: What about the engine was off?

James: The engine was fine, I just couldn’t figure out a good formula for the game.  Nothing ever felt right, like I was battling it constantly.  And at some point I just began to resent it.  All the fun was gone.  That was definitely my lowest point in a long time.  It was nervous-breakdown type levels for a while.  So I scrapped it all.

Cathy: Do you know how many developers I’ve met since starting my site that I honestly feel would scrap something if they weren’t comfortable with it?  Probably not a lot.  I take it the current build you’re much more satisfied with?

James: Oh my God, yes!  It was like the next day I made a new project, started coding shit all over, and man, I was like in love immediately.

They eyes have it!

The eyes have it!

Cathy: So how far along is Chasm now?

James: Very early.  I started fresh October 25 or 26 I think.  I’m shooting to have it done in a year from then.

Cathy: You guys are on Steam Greenlight.  Most developers I’ve talked with who have listed their games on this have been, ahem, humbled by the, ahem, polite discourse on it.  How has the feedback for Chasm been?

James: Well first let me tell you, I put Take Arms and 48 Chambers on there immediately when the service first went up.  It was free for a while if you remember, so I was like why not?  48 chambers did incredibly poorly, as you can imagine.  I finally took it off there last week after being up since launch and it was at like 23% I think.  Almost every comment called it a mobile game and said it would be perfect on iPhone, which is funny since the entire game is designed around a thumb-stick, but okay.

Cathy: I do get their point, but yea, can’t imagine playing it with touch or tilt controls.

James: Take Arms did a bit better, but not very. At its highest point it was 52% to top 100, 48% when I pulled it off last week.  Now that, on the other hand, was called a “flash game” in a snobbish way.  Apparently there are a couple of flash games that are similar, so everyone on PC absolutely hated it.  I think Alex Jordan got same kinda criticism about Cute Things Dying Violently.

Cathy: Yea.  In fact, he did a Tales from the Dev Side on it.

James: Yea, so PC gamers are very weary of anything that looks like a flash game that they might have once saw.

Cathy: But then you put up Chasm, and it’s doing well to say the least.

James: I put it up just for the hell of it after we put up the new video on the 11th.  It’s now in the top 100 on Steam Greenlight.

Cathy: Very nice!

James: That’s with no major media support whatsoever, its purely from Greenlighters.

Cathy: I’m not major media?

James: Were you pimping it?

Cathy: That’s what I’m doing now.

James: Too late!  I’m top 100 now.  You get no credit.

Cathy: Awwwwwww.

James: I’m not sure where these votes are coming from, we’ve had 20k unique hits since then.  I didn’t realize that many people even rated Greenlight games for the hell of it.  So it’s a little surprising thinking I’m going to have to work my ass off to push traffic to it, when in reality i did nothing, just put a video on and answered people’s questions.

Cathy: I think now that it cost money to list your game, you’re seeing more dedicated, anxious fans, instead of haters and trolls.

James: Ya think?

Cathy: That’s my best guess.

James: So yea, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  Which is crazy for something only two months into development.

Cathy: It’s a Metroidvania, but it’s also a Roguelike. Were you beat on as a child?

James: Ha ha, no.

Cathy: Hey, I still remember the original build of 48 Chambers.

James: Before you jump to conclusions, the Roguelike influence is more from Diablo than anything.

Cathy: Oh good, so Roguelike for pussies.  Noted.

James: I didn’t say that.

Cathy: The headline from this shall read “James Petruzzi, developer of upcoming game Chasm, calls all Diablo fans pussies.”

James: Are you trying to get me in trouble?

Cathy: Always.

James: I wouldn’t call it for-pussies! I think permadeath is pretty harsh punishment for failure.

Cathy: So when can we expect Chasm?

James: Hopefully late 2013.

Cathy: Come on, 400MSP XBLIG release?

James: Man I still like XBLIG, it’s a love/hate thing you know?  I love it for being an open marketplace, but I hate it for being an open marketplace.

Seriously, James. You've got to come up with more exciting screens than these.  This is your big moment!

Seriously, James. You’ve got to come up with more exciting screens than these. This is your big moment!

Cathy: Hey, some neo-retro games are getting full XBLA releases. Spelunky for example.  Why not try to secure a publisher?

James: Honestly, it’s really nice not having anyone to answer to.  Only problem is always money, you know?

Cathy: Which I hear you’re thinking of solving by going through Kic..kic..kic..

James: Cathy, you okay?

Cathy: Excuse me, you’re thinking of going through Kic..kic..kic..

James: Kickstarter?

Cathy: Yea, that.

James: You seem to have a little bit of blood coming out of your nose.

Cathy: Yea, that happens whenever I hear or say that word.

James: I don’t think that’s healthy.

Cathy: Tell me about it.  After writing that last editorial, my office looked like the Crazy 88s scene from Kill Bill.

James: Yea I’m thinking about Kickst.. that.  I’m thinking about using that.

Cathy: Nice save.  Gives me a chance to clot.

James: I’m also thinking about alpha funding, or even selling out to Microsoft.  I’ve considered it all, and I’m still not sure what the best route is.  We’re going to Game Developers Conference in March to show off Chasm, hopefully get some people interested.

Cathy: Might help to wear a tee-shirt that says “will sell my creative vision for food.”

James: I’m not THAT desperate yet!

Cathy: You’re thinking of using Kickstarter.  You ARE that desperate.

James: Cathy, your nose.

Cathy: Well shit.  Better wrap this up.  I’ve got to go to the hospital again.

Be sure to check out the official Chasm page at DiscordGames.com

Interview with Adam Spragg – Developer of Hidden in Plain Sight

Three developer interviews in three weeks.  Is this going to be a new regular feature at Indie Gamer Chick?  Maybe.  I consider myself a mediocre interviewer, but I offer interviews as a perk for sponsoring the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard or Review Index.  Adam Spragg, creator of the cult-hit Hidden in Plain Sight, became the second sponsor of my leaderboard when he donated to Autism Speaks.  I couldn’t have been happier to have him aboard, because Hidden in Plain Sight is one of the true hidden gems of Xbox Live Indie Games.  An extraordinarily fun multiplayer experience unlike anything I had played before.  It’s also one of the rare XBLIGs that has had great success spreading by word-of-mouth.  I was anxious to ask Adam how he feels about the response to his game, which is one of the most critically acclaimed on the platform.

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Developer Interview: Aeternum

Aeternum.  I didn’t love it.  Couldn’t even beat the first stage.  So why am I talking to the developers?  Well, because they’re my friends.  And, let’s face it, in this crazy modern world, cronyism is the glue that holds everything together.  Besides, it was late Friday night and after having a nuclear-level seizure, I figured games would be semi-off limits for the weekend.  I needed something to post, and my friends were in to lend me a hand.  It’s enough to make you cry tears of blood, is it not?

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Tales from the Dev Side: Greenlight, Red Light by Alex Jordan

Although I’ve sworn many times that Xbox Live Indie Games have a bright future, developers are treating the platform like a freshly pruned-by-iceberg Titanic.  For many, the brass ring for distribution is now Steam.  The problem with that is Steam is a tough nut to crack.  And then hope came in the form of Steam Greenlight.  But is it really hope, or is it all smoke and mirrors?  Cute Things Dying Violently developer and Greenlight hopeful Alex Jordan  has a few thoughts.

Greenlight, Red Light

by Alex Jordan

The life of an up-and-coming indie game developer sure is a great one. I mean, think of the perks!  Scant management, vast amounts of creative control, and great appreciation for the finer things in life, e.g. ramen noodles.

And, hey, there’s also the disproportionately huge share of revenue you command!  Unfortunately, 70% or 100% of shit is still shit (roughly “shi” if you’re using the 70% model, including the dot above the i, greedy bastards), so pretty much every last indie developer has had one nagging thing on their to-do list for the past four or five years: beg for distribution on Steam.  Because, let’s face it, it’d be super nice if people had actually heard about your game and maybe would deign to buy it.  If that were the case, you could consider quitting your day job, or at least consider having something for lunch other than rehydrated noodles in sodium water.

And because the only thing out there more in abundance than ramen noodles is desperate indie developers, the guys and gals at Valve who run Steam have had to fend off these Morlocks with a stick.

Pictured: Cute Things Dying Violently creator Alex Jordan and his fiancée.

For every indie game that manages to pass through the Pearly Gates, 100 get denied or ignored. Enter: Steam Greenlight, Valve’s way of saying, “Here! You look at shitty MS Paint art.  We’ll just sit here and make decorative pants out of $100 bills.”

Having had Cute Things Dying Violently rejected by Valve back in July, Greenlight (which was announced roughly three days after I got my rejection email) seemed like a juicy consolation prize.  A community indie games voting site for a large captive audience of Steam users, designed by a developer as canny and talented as Valve? Sign me up!

And I did. Pretty much the moment it went live, back on August 30.  And that’s when the horrible truth set in: Greenlight was. . . decent.  It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible, it was just. . . a filter.  Pure, exhausted convenience distilled into a website.

What’s Going Right?

My first 20 minutes with Greenlight were pretty blissful.  It was streamlined and easy to use, and I managed to register CTDV with trailer, screenshots, and description inside of ten minutes.  And pretty much the moment my page went live, the unique page views started pouring in.  The “large captive audience” I mentioned earlier is nothing to sneeze at.  Just by virtue of being on the platform, my game and others like it were getting a degree of attention that was unprecedented just hours earlier.

It’s also marvelously easy to provide feedback on games.  For each game page there’s an upvote button, a downvote button, and a Favorite button.  Additionally, Collections make it easier for third parties like gaming websites to promote a series of games.

What’s Going Wrong?

I’m not going to harp much on the reviewer’s experience, since most gaming journalism outfits have already beat me to it.  The short version is that discoverability is still a problem; talented developers with attractive games are unavoidably lumped together with complete crap; trying to cast several votes efficiently is a navigational cul-de-sac; and, unfortunately, the Greenlight community is full of slack-jawed retards.

“Gameplay looks like iphone appstore level trash” said Cletus Gumtooth of Pine Knot, Kentucky. Jed Toomanytoes of Camden, TN noted “looks like a boring, bad, lazy game thats just like a multitude of other terrible and boring games. also i want to fuk my sistah.”

How obnoxious can they be? Well, many of them didn’t know what Greenlight was for.  They thought it was a way to request their favorite AAA games getting on Steam as opposed to indie games.  Plenty of people who knew what the deal actually was were scarcely better, and each game’s comments thread began racking up scattershot feedback that many YouTube vets would cringe at.  One man’s Cthulhu Saves the World is another man’s crappy RPG Maker clone, and one man’s Cute Things Dying Violently is another man’s “stupid Flash game.”  Ouch.

I’m sure the majority of Steam accounts are held by lovely people, but you can only read so many variations on “Your game sucks” or “Get fucked m8” before the scales fall from your eyes.  After all, these are the people whose votes you need.

Oh my God, I turned out to be a politician anyway.

The Developer’s Experience

Anyway, such delicate interaction proved to be a wee bit of an eye-opener.  The rest of the developer experience on Greenlight isn’t much better.

The most notable aspect of the developer’s experience is one of confusion and withheld information.  Putting a game on Greenlight, with its studied silence from Valve and its schizophrenic community, is like being asked to stand in one place and alternatively receiving either kisses or kicks to the genitalia.

And those are the only two forms of feedback.  Initially, developers (and only developers) got to privately see their game’s percentage of upvotes to downvotes, but that disappeared after a few days when it became apparent to Valve that downvoting – either legitimate downvotes or those by trolls – served no other cause than to drag down a game’s up/down ratio.  Downvotes don’t subtract from upvotes, but, initially, we didn’t know that.  For reviewers, a downvote got the game off their to-review screen.  For developers, it was a sign of dislike for the game and perhaps even a negated upvote, as Valve hadn’t told us otherwise.  We got to suffer in silence for a few days, watching our numbers degrade, before Valve put us out of our misery and yanked that wonderful feature.

And then there’s the “% of Calculated Ratings So Far” bar that shows how far along your game is on upvotes before it gets submitted to Valve.  Well, the fine folks at Valve don’t quite know yet what level of participation the Greenlight community will have, so they’ve erred on the side of caution and set the number pretty damn high.  Even standout games on Greenlight like Project Zomboid have only gotten about 20% of the votes they need, while the rest of us plebes get to hang on to single digit approval percentages.  (Granted, it’s been less than a week, so take my whining with a grain of salt.)  And since developers don’t get to see how many upvotes their games have actually gotten, there’s nothing for us to extrapolate from.  We just get to sit, and wait.  And get kicked in the balls.

Hey, I’ve Done This Before. . .

Despite its shortcomings, Greenlight still presents a big opportunity for indie developers.  Whereas previously Valve would almost certainly take a look at your game and flat-out reject it in the same split second, now we have an opportunity to land a game on their laps with some sort of critical consensus and the understanding that Valve employees will review it with the time and attention it deserves.  Gone will be the days of instantaneous judgment leading to rejection and developer misery.

Thus, Greenlight becomes a plausible shortcut.  Sure, it’s an extra step in the process (you used to be able to just fill out a form on Valve’s website and send your game in), but if your game emerges intact on the other side, odds are you’ll soon be sitting pretty.

Cute Things Dying Violently has seen modest success on various platforms. Which is probably a good thing. If it did any better, you know a certain Silicon Valley mobile company would be right there with their “completely original” physics puzzler “Adorable Creatures Perishing Disturbingly.” Then they would probably sue him for stealing their idea before they thought of it.

But here’s the thing… Greenlight’s voting threshold and discoverability shortcomings mean that the developers still need to do quite a bit of hustle to gain attention and upvotes.  Which is. . . hey! I recognize that feeling!  That’s exasperation, having just realized that this is what we’ve always had to do, and will always have to do.  I don’t think any of us developers were naïve enough to think that Greenlight would be a straight ticket to success, but what we got instead was another chapter in the same story we’ve been reading for years upon years: capitalism is hard, and you gotta work for it, and in the end you still might get shafted for no fault of your own.

That means instead of spamming Kickstarter solicitation emails, now you’ll be spamming Greenlight solicitation emails.  (I’m sure gaming journos will be just as eager to read the latter!)  Developers will still be struggling to worm their way into bundles and promotions, desperate to practically give their game away just to get a little bit more recognition.  Networking will still be paramount and journalists will still need to be schmoozed at bars, but last I checked, I really like beer and I really like talking about myself, so that’s not a problem.

In the end, Greenlight represents yet another dance routine on the never-ending popularity contest that all obscure indie developers have to participate in.  It’s certainly not bad, and dare I say the vetting process still represents a good opportunity, it’s just that it’s underwhelming.  Greenlight’s another queue, another procedure, another form that needs to be filled out on the road to possible opportunity.

It is, in short, the perfect microcosm of the indie developer experience.  Does that look like a raw deal to you?   It shouldn’t.  It may seem like deferred, somewhat unlikely success, but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?  If it wasn’t, we would’ve given up.  And judging by the growing number of games on Greenlight, that ain’t gonna happen.

Developer Interview: Count to a Billion

Count to a Billion is a bit of an anomaly in modern gaming.  It’s a pure button masher without apology.  Stand-alone button mashers have been a dead genre for decades.  Bringing out a new one in 2012 seemed almost brazen.  Developer RAWR! Interactive took it as a challenge to resurrect this style of game.  I spoke with their co-founder Mario Wunderlich about what went into creating Count to a Billion.

And yes, Count to a Billion is the official sponsor of the Leaderboard.  It doesn’t mean they’re getting all softball questions.  I enjoyed Count to a Billion, but I do have a bone or two to pick with it.

By the way, if you Tweet this interview, you’re entered into a chance to win a free copy of Count to a Billion.  Valid tweets must include the hashtag #IGCbillion fuck it, just tweet the damn interview.  We’ll be giving away not one, not two, but three copies!  Even if you can’t count to a billion, you can count to three.  Winners will be drawn on Saturday, September 1, 2012.

Kairi:  Button mashers are games that studios dress up and try to pretend they’re something else.  You guys outright embraced being a button masher and flaunt it.  How did this come about?

Mario: Count to a Billion, as a concept, was born from the desire to use the iPhone’s screen capabilities to the max. Most games use but 1 finger, sparingly, for everything. We wanted ta have players use all fingers (5 on iPhone, 10 on iPad) and do it in an intense fashion.

We worked it up from there to a pure button masher. There is no need for deceit, no need for disguise. We believe button mashers can be fun if the incentives and mechanics are well designed. And the iPhone/iPad screen is a perfect medium for it.

It is so simple, and yet it really is a lot of fun.  And exhausting.

By the way, the game was originally called Count to a Million… but we just kept escalating the game in intensity, and soon realized that big numbers accurately reflected this – and that’s how Count to a Billion came to be.

Kairi: It’s such a rarity that a game, even a small indie game, centers completely around button mashing.  I asked some gamers what was the last button masher they liked.  Most answered Track & Field, an early 80s arcade game that later got some home ports.  So it’s been a long time since this type of game resonated with gamers.  Why take the risk?

Mario: As a company, RAWR! Interactive’s vision is to explore new game mechanics for mobile platforms. Because of our vision, all our games will be risky investments by nature – but we think it’s well worth it, we might find something that players really love. Maybe it’s Count to a Billion, maybe it’ll be another game. But our mission is to find new ways to play with an iOS device.

With Count to a Billion, we wanted to get away from the super laid-back game mechanics that have been used over and over in 99% of mobile games – and explore intense game mechanisms. It this case, the intensity is quite physical. Sore arms. Numb fingers. And players have kept coming for more!

Kairi: The majority of gamers I know are super apprehensive about the potential of a button masher.  Straight honesty on my part: I thought Count to a Billion was going to suck.  I really did.  And in fact it’s very enjoyable.  So how do you go about convincing people that your button masher is different from any other button masher ever created?  Because, well, it is!

Mario: Thank you. And you’re right about that too. People have a preconceived notion of what a button masher is – the last one most gamers saw, like you noted, was probably in the 80s… and left it at that. So our job now is to show gamers what a button masher can be. It can be as fun and as involved as any other game.

So for Count to a Billion, making the game was just 50% of the journey. The other 50% is all about PR and marketing. And to keep on innovating. So yeah, Count to a Billion’s release was just the start – we have great new things planned for it. And we’re working around the clock in the hopes that it’ll be seen as more than just another “button masher.”

Kairi: As I touched on earlier, your game has no theme to it.  It’s just about smacking numbers.  Was there ever a point where you had something other than the minimalist look it has now?

Mario: The idea was always minimal, but making a game out of button mashing took a lot of experimenting. We went through 7 versions getting a feel of how best to get the gameplay mechanics, getting the look and feel right, creating a set of goals and achievements to give the game a sense of progress and of winning – it’s the details that make a game, and with a game as drastically different and minimalist as Count to a Billion, we really had to discover them from scratch.

Kairi: I’m ranked 53rd on the leaderboard, and I would be ranked better if it wasn’t for some of those damn sliders.  Especially the “C” slider.  The game is critically acclaimed, but also everyone is complaining about these.  How did this slip by?

Mario: Initially, we wanted the game to be not only fun, but also a tough, challenging experience. The “C” Slider is probably the toughest challenge in the game. After working on it for so long, however, we made the mistake of forgetting just how difficult some of these where. We even got used to the “quirks.” But we’ve listened to our players, and our next update addresses these.  The challenge will still remain, but it will be focused more on getting that high score, less on trying to avoid errors.

God Damn this fucking shape!! I officially declare war on all things that begin with the letter C! Well, except for things named Cathy. I can’t declare war on myself obviously, unless you count all the smoking and late nights spent watching Dana Carvey movies.

Kairi: The YouTube integration was a stroke of genius.  How come you guys didn’t include feature for tweeting scores?

Mario: Thanks! To be honest, we wanted to limit the number of options in exchange for a smoother User Experience. As part of this trade-off, we thought about all the available social options, and concluded that Facebook and YouTube where better platforms to brag about your skills. Twitter is a fantastic social tool, but unless you’re constantly tweeting or have a huge following, singled-out tweets simply won’t get noticed.  However, we listen to our users. If twitter is a big wish-list item for many, we’ll make room for it and include it.

Kairi: So far the game is doing well, at least critically.  Other than addressing complaints, do you have any features planned for addition?

Mario: We have many new features planned. This first release was just the beginning. One particular feature will be the addition of a 30 second blitz play-mode, where you’ll be able to create your own “decks” with challenges in a particular order so you can maximize your game. These are possible game-changers – but the core will always remain: intense tapping and sliding action for billions of points!

Kairi: Anything else you have to say to potential players who remain skeptical?

Mario: If playing an intense, challenging game that is quite different from anything else you’ve ever played isn’t enough, then how about trying to earn all 68 achievements!? And coming soon, we’ll have an in-game “store” where you’ll be able to trade in billions of points for cool, new playable stuff!

Check out Count to a Billion for sale now in the App Store.

Indie Games Uprising III Interview: Sententia

It’s back!  Last year, the ten games of extreme varying quality (somewhere between sublime and subfeces) took part in what was the most promoted event in Xbox Live Indie Game history.  This year, nine new games are ready to show off what the platform is capable of.  It’s called the Indie Games Uprising III.  The man running it, 19-year-old Michael Hicks, has a game of his own in it: artsy platformer Sententia.  I talked with him about his game, the event, and what exactly “art house” gaming means.

Kairi: When I hear the term “art house style game”, I typically throw-up a little bit in my mouth.  What do you think the medical term for that is?

Michael Hicks: Ha! Well, I guess you could say I used that to rebel against “the man” or status quo. It’s kind of a vague term looking back at it now, but this game is extremely personal to me and marked a big change on my outlook towards game design. I wanted to be sure that when going into the game people would know that I attempted to make something more than a game about jumping over blocks and attacking enemies; there’s a ton of reasoning behind all of the design decisions… almost an unhealthy amount! I guess I was just worried people wouldn’t get me, so I decided to go all hippie hipster and call it an art game!

Kairi: When I watched the video for Sententia, it looked to me like a cross between a punisher and Scribblenauts.  What is the actual inspiration for the game?

Michael: You’re the first one to call it a punisher! The game is very challenging and ramps up fast – I don’t think that’s something people typically take away from the trailer. The gameplay wasn’t really inspired by a particular game, but you could say that it was inspired by the themes and messages I wanted to convey. The games that made me open my eyes were “Aether” by Edmund McMillen, “Gravitation” by Jason Rohrer, and “Braid” by Jon Blow. These games are very powerful, but they tell stories through basic gameplay interactions and themes, I wanted to try and experiment with what they pioneered. As I started to get more technical with the platform designs I did reference “Super Meat Boy” quite a bit, as the game is very challenging, but never felt frustrating (at least to me!).

Kairi: Your previous games have been space shooters, and now you’re doing a self-described “art” game.  You’ve started taking drugs, haven’t you?

Michael: No, never! It’s insane how many times I get asked this by people… it’s so weird that when people start to make more expressive things others instantly think they’ve turned to smoking weed or something!

Kairi: I’m actually kind of surprised by the lack of quote-unquote “experimental” games on XBLIG.  Why do you think developers don’t try to get weird when they create their games?

Michael: It’s really easy to just stick with what has already been proven to be successful, it takes some practice to really work the “originality muscle”, and I’m still trying to exercise it myself. It also takes some guts to make something super personal/deep/experimental and release it to a wide audience; I’m very terrified to release my own game, I think the closer it gets to the release date the more I am going to lose my mind.


Kairi: When you made your previous games, was there any off-the-wall weird shit that you thought to include but chickened out of?

Michael: I don’t think I’ve ever censored myself like that, but before “Sententia” I was going to make a game based around this joke rap project that my friend and I do on occasion. We started recording music for it back in High School as a way of making fun of pop culture. In this game you were going to drive around with a police officer collecting donuts while this song of ours played on the radio. Then I remembered that I’m in a position where the games I make can actually affect people’s lives and I wasn’t interested in committing career suicide.

Kairi: You pussy!

Michael: Hey, I thought it was the right thing to do!

Kairi: Okay, so now that you’ve finally manned up and are doing something off the beaten path, are you finding it difficult to implement your vision using the XNA framework?

Michael: Definitely not, I hope I never have to work with anything else. I really don’t care for C++ or any of the hardcore techie languages, even though I can use them. I love to program, and I’m glad I can do it… but I don’t like spending time doing all of the crap that those languages require when I could be doing more game specific type stuff.

Kairi: You’re the man in charge, more or less, of the third Uprising.  Are you fucking insane?

Michael: A lot of people think I am, that’s for sure! It’s really an honor to be involved like this, but it’s a huge responsibility; I want to make sure this is a promotion that people won’t forget.

Kairi: Some people, who shall remain nameless (ME!) thought the last Uprising was incredibly disappointing.  This year looks much more promising right from the start.  What do you say to those (ME!) that are skeptical about the quality of the games this time around?

Michael: Reception of indie games at this level is kind of a weird thing, you get such mixed reactions. Personally though, I am really excited for the line up this year… a lot of the games are very interesting. I’ve played most of the titles thoroughly, and I would definitely rank a good number of them in my “Favorite XBLIGs Ever” list.

Kairi: I noticed all the Uprising games are single player titles.  Is the irony that we’re doing an event where the community rises up together yet plays games alone lost on you?

Michael: Wow, that never dawned on me before! We tried to get a variety of games, but mainly we wanted to scout out some titles that we thought were great games.

Kairi: In closing, how do you feel the games of this Uprising stack up against the games of the previous two events?

Michael: The selection this year is totally different from last time I think. I would classify those games as more extroverted and these games as more introverted… maybe that makes no sense. Either way, we’ll just have to see what people say when all of this kicks off!

Tales from the Dev Side: Hooray for Us by Steve Smith

Forgive me guys.

 

Yo they’re Smith Bros.

Collecting Disorder’s their game.

Landed on my leaderboard

with minimal pain.

They were lended a hand,

when they got to XBLIG land.

Even if punishers are for fuckers,

I respect those limey Brothers!

UHHH!

Oh God, I’m so sorry.  Here, read Mr. Steve Smith’s Tales from the Dead Side.  I’m going to go flog myself.

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Contest: Name the Game

Update: Two additional copies of the game will be given away, with myself and my boyfriend Brian selecting the winners for both.  It’s like winning a prize for being not good enough for the judges! 

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.  Considering that the first thing you typically learn about a game is what its name is, I’m always a little surprised when someone totally phones it in.  Don’t get me wrong, Xbox Live Indie Game developers aren’t the only ones guilty of this (Attack of the Clones?  Was George Lucas sniffing white-out when he came up with that?), but it makes me wonder if you missed the whole point of being an independent developer.  You’re free to name your game anything, as long as it doesn’t contain cussing, racism, sexual slurs, homophobia, drug references, or references to Nazism.  Still, that’s hardly limiting, unless you’re one very disturbed person.

And yet, in my year of doing this, I’ve encountered names that are just bad.  The one that sticks out to me the most (ironically because it does stick out the least) is one called Dark.  What an unambitious name.  First off, can you think of another game that has the word “Dark” in it?  Off the top of my head, I can think of, in order, Baulder’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Dark Cloud, Alone in the Dark, Heart of Darkness, Perfect Dark, Star Wars: Dark Forces, Eternal Darkness, and I think the next Luigi’s Mansion is called Dark Moon.  I’m not saying “don’t use the word Dark.”  I’m saying jazz it up.  Attach stuff to it so it sticks out.

I reviewed a game called Inferno!  That would have been a tolerable (if utterly forgettable) name if that hadn’t already been the name of a game on the service that was made by a very popular developer as far as XBLIGs go.  I played a rhythm-based RPG called Sequence that was overflowing with personality and snappy writing.  Of course, Sequence also happens to be the name of a very popular, completely unrelated board game that I’ve played since I was five years old, and doesn’t even really fit the thing anyway.  I played a game named Brand, which could very well be the most uninspired title a video game has ever had.

Which brings us to why we’re here today.  Andreas Heydeck has a game coming out soon to Xbox Live Indie Games.  He built it under the working title Simcom Corp.  That name is not going to fly.  What he wants is help.  Specifically, he wants YOUR help.  Andreas asked me if Indie Gamer Chick could host the contest.  I readily agreed, because this is a contest that makes sense to me.  I matched Andreas up with a panel of four guys that cover the XBLIG scene.  Those five gentlemen.. well four and Alan.. make it three with Alan & Ryan.. okay, those four buttholes and Andreas, will decide who wins.

And what does the winner get?

  • 1600 Microsoft Points (must be a citizen of the United States or Europe to collect)
  • A free copy of the game when it is released.
  • His or her name in the game’s credits.

How do you enter?  It’s simple: name the game.  Submit an entry in the field below, including some means to get in contact with you in the event you win.  This contest closes Friday, July 20 at 5:00 PM  Pacific Standard Time.  Below is the full rules, information on the game, and what the five judges expect from contestants.  Good luck.

Please note that comments at this site are subject to moderation.  I do approvals as often as I can, but it might take several hours for your entry to be viewable. 

The Game

It’s an economic simulator in the shape of a call center/contact center simulator.  You build your own contact center building, staff your different functions, and balance your workloads. The goal is to optimize your operation, expand your business with current and new client assignments, keeping your staff happy, equipment functional, and making sure that you are maximizing profits.

Please view the trailer.

To Enter

Leave the name of the title in a reply to this article, along with your Twitter handle, or register to post using a valid e-mail address.  Addresses won’t be shared by IndieGamerChick.com except with Mr. Andreas, and only for the winning person.  Clearly state the name of the game, and if you feel necessary, why you believe that name fits.  Replies must be marked by July 20, 2012 at 5:00PM Pacific Standard Time.  If a winner is decided, it will be announced on Sunday, July 22, 2012.

The Judges

There are five judges who will determine the winner.  They will be encouraged to come to a consensus, but if one can’t be found, a simply majority will be enough.  Along with the game’s creator, the remaining judges are as follows:

Dave Voyles of Armless Octopus

I’m looking for a colorful title which clearly defines who this game will best serve.

Tim Hurley of TheXBLIG.com

So, what am I looking for in a name? It’s important for the title to be unique (and thus searchable), but it’s just as vital that it match the tone / theme of the game. ‘Call Center Zombies’ has a certain ring (excuse that pun) to it, but thematically accurate? Probably not. Imagine you’re selling this game, and to an extent, you are. Coming up with a name to envelop all sides (searchable, fun, appropriate to the content) won’t be easy, but that’s why you can promise me 400 MSP of the 1600 prize, and I will vote for you.

Please note, he’s joking.  If he tries anything fishy, I reserve the right to kill and eat him.

Ryan Donnelly of Vintage Video Games TV

I will judging partially on Indie Gamer Chick’s  Google Rule, and I will be looking for a strategic yet parodic name that could be used. I find that the most catchy titles are usually puns on an established theme or name, thus bringing attention to the game. The Google Rule will apply to my decision once I can find names that rhyme and can be made fun of right off the bat.  Example:  Minecraft = Minecrap.

Alan Charlesworth of The Indie Ocean

Creating a name is a tough and thankless task, and I’ve never been any good at it. My cat is called Bo’sun Norbert. I can judge other people’s naming skills, though. A good game title needs to be something that will stick in my mind even if the blurb, screenshots and demo don’t. Something that has relevance to the content of the game. Something that, if I Google it in my capacity as a game critic, will appear before the 500th page of results. In short: I need to be able to find it, remember it and match it to the game. Puns are welcome. LOLcat spellings, hoards of exclamation marks and titles that sound like something an eight year old would find insultingly childish will most certainly get your entry kicked in the face.

Please note, it will NOT get you kicked in the face.  Any face kicking will be purely symbolic.

Rules and Eligibility

  • This competition is open to residents of Europe and United States of America.  Entrants from other countries can not collect a full prize.
  • You must be 18 years of age to enter.
  • All competition entries will be presented to a judging panel consisting of Andreas Heydeck, Dave Voyles, Ryan Donnelly, Alan Charlesworth and Tim Hurley, who will decide on the winning entry.
  • If two or more people enter the same name, the first person to have entered it will be considered the only valid entry.
  • You may enter as many times as you want.
  • The decision of the Judges shall be final and cannot be challenged.  In their absolute discretion they may declare void any entry or the competition itself should they consider that there are no entries reaching a required standard, whereupon they can award prizes or not as they think fit.
  • The winner will be chosen by the Judges, and the prize awarded to the entry that the Judges consider to be the best.
  • The prizes will be paid at different times. A code for Microsoft Points will be sent via email or direct-message on Twitter to the winner within 2 weeks of winning the competition.  A code to the game will be sent to the winner via email upon release of the game.
  • By entering the competition, you agree to having your name and/or nickname published on various websites/blogs.
  • All entries in the competition will be the property of Andreas Heydeck Games, and released only if not voted as the winner by the judging panel.
  • Entries will be deemed invalid if the entry would be covered by any type of patent and/or trademark owned by another company or studio.
  • There will be no cash or other alternative to the prize offered and prizes are not transferable.
  • It is the responsibility of entrants to keep themselves informed as to any updates of these rules, and they acknowledge that any failure to comply with these rules could lead to their disqualification without reasons being given or opportunity for challenge.
  • Andreas Heydeck Games is responsible for all aspects of this competition, and not IndieGamerChick.com or its sponsors.

Tales from the Dev Side: Redefining Indie Success by Shahed Chowdhuri

Back in March, I published what is probably the most optimistic edition of Tales from the Dev Side I have gotten yet.  Mr. Shahed Chowdhuri is the developer of Angry Zombie Ninja Cats, a game that I boiled in oil back in November.  He’s also the creator of the XBLIG Sales Data Analyzer, which has been well received among his peers.  He’s also one of the most gosh-darned nice guys in the community, and his first editorial on here about gaining community acceptance was cited as being inspirational to newcomers on the Xbox Live Indie Game scene.  Now, Mr. Shahed has a different, yet still insanely chirpy and upbeat message to share with everyone: success is what you make of it.

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Tales from the Dev Side: The Game Industry Needs More Clones by DJ Arcas

Games similar to Minecraft dominate the sales charts of Xbox Live Indie Games.  Four of the top-10 selling games in platform’s history fall into that category.  The first games on XBLIG to gross $1,000,000 USD are both what are refereed to as “Minecraft Clones.”  I’ve not yet played any of those top-selling games, but I understand why they exist.  The gaming industry has always followed-the-leader.

When Pong first hit the world in 1972, it was immediately imitated, copied, cloned, or outright pirated world-wide.  Even Atari cloned its own baby, releasing such titles as  Super Pong, Doubles Pong, Doctor Pong, Puppy Pong, Hong Pong Phooey, and Pong Arm of the Law.  This continued with Breakout (itself referred to during development as “one-player Pong”), Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Defender, Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, Street Fighter II, Doom, Bejeweled, Resident Evil, World of Warcraft, and Angry Birds.  Think about it.  There are major studios out there right now who saw the first trailers for Watch Dogs or The Last of Us at E3 and said “guys, we need our own version of that and we need it by Holiday of 2013.  Get to work.”

In an industry where there are few trend setters, it has kind of surprised me how much animosity there is for those that are simply doing what the major studios are doing.  But the bitterness is there.  DJ Arcas, creator of FortressCraft, has dealt with it.  Last year, FortressCraft was the first Xbox Live Indie Game to gross $1,000,000.  I really ought to get around to reviewing it.  But while the first XBLIG-made millionaire continues to tweak his creation, he also has had to deal with the criticism that his game is merely a knock-off of a game that happens to be absurdly trendy right now.  I did once joke that Xbox Live Indie Games needs some form of a 6th Day Law, but DJ has another thought.  Maybe clones aren’t so bad after all.

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