Indie Games Spotlight for March 4th, 2012

By mancide, 4 years ago
This week, we sit down with Paul from Rockmint studios and talk about the development of Firefly Vegas.

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Ok, lets start this off with the obvious, first tell us a little bit about your gaming history.
FireFly Vegas is a tribute in many ways to the first game I ever purchased in the 80s - 'Omega Race' on the Vic20, it was on cartridge so had no load time, something I remember thinking was revolutionary back then! The game was simple, challenging but highly addictive and I became an instant fan of the shoot 'em up genre.

I generally prefer original retro old school games which you can just pick up and play for short bursts, some of my all time favourites include RockMan, Operation Wolf, Winter Games, StreetFigther 2, Speedball 2, Xenon 2 and Golden Axe. These were the ones I enjoyed playing when I was growing up and I still enjoy them to this day!

How long have you been developing games?
The name of my 'studio' - RockMint was derived from, 'Rock' - providing a solid foundation and, 'Mint' - implying new and fresh, which I setup in Summer 2011. FireFly Vegas is the inaugral release for RockMint and the first game I've released publicly as a complete title, although I've been making games in some capacity since I was able to program in Basic on the Vic20 since the 80s, I played around with developing again on the Amiga platform several years later and when I discovered XNA/XBLIG a few years ago - it had an instant appeal and something I've been spending any spare time working on.

What do you think about the Indie Developer scene?
Games created by the Indie developer community provide a source of innovation, creativity and at times high risk ingenuity, rarely seen amongst the AAA releases. The diverse range of concepts and ideas incorporated into the indie scene are a demonstration of the wide ranging appeal of video games and the many genres which can contribute to its success. Combining visuals, audio and interactivity provides the ultimate form of artistic expression and the Indie developer scene is at the forefront of driving this movement forward.

What events or concepts helped shape the direction for FireFly Vegas?
FireFly Vegas started off as something completley different and developed almost organically, it wasn't preplanned in anyway. I initially created a game engine - RockMint Application Construction Engine (RACE) to provide a solid foundation for future game development projects, taking advantage of programming modules and specific gaming components for reuse. The original game I developed to help stress test the engine was called 'Super Bouncin Benny Bee' which was basically a simple twin stick shooter with a bumble bee - Benny, as the main character bouncing round the screen shooting various insects and collecting flowers. After almost 24 months of on-and-off spare time development this eventually became 'FireFly' and during final testing 'Vegas' was added to the title after a testers comment that it reminded them of a recent trip to the Strip. Reviews often compare FireFly Vegas to SuperStar Dust and Geometry Wars, there are some similarities especially with the visuals but also many differences in terms of the experience and resulting gameplay.

What was the most significant thing you took away from the development process?
Implementing a game engine greatly helps with rapidly and effectively making alterations and testing in the long term, intially it's more work to develop - but was well worth the effort especially with future projects in mind.

I also quickly became aware of how significant minor changes can be to the game, changing the size of a sprite, slowng down enemies or changing the number of particle explosions can quite dramatically impact the end result. It's a tough balance to get right and it's almost impossible to incorporate everyones feedback from testing, for example some people love the 'Dynamic mode' in FireFly Vegas as its not common and adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay, whilst others find the arena revolving a real 'head-screw' and the controls too difficult to begin with, hence why it's labelled as 'Expert Mode.'

It's actullay quite difficult to do something truely innovative that people instantly like, as in general mass appeal is driven by familiarity.

Are you adding any extra features to FireFly Vegas?
I'm working on an update to specifically enhance playability, hopefully for release around the March timeframe, but some of the feature requests I've received from players they'd like incorporated which I'm investigating include: multiplayer, extra modes, reducing the diificulty and release on other platforms in particular PC. Any other suggestions or comments, drop me a mail

Microsoft recently announced some changes to XBLIG. Do you feel these changes are moving the service in the right or wrong direction?
Any added publicity is always welcome to help drive the indie scene forward and also attempts to improve the service confirm a continued investment in the platform overall. XBLIG has proven to have a high level of potential as a successful distribution portal - with some games achieving million dollar+ sales revenue. As a user, the XBLIG service offers amazing value for money; As a hobbiest developer the cost of utilising XNA and XBLIG Creators Club is low enough to make it affordable and worthwhile - if not only for the coolness factor of releasing a game on Xbox Live but for the support and interaction with the AppHub community.

Allowing games with greater file sizes as well as the option to charge 80 points (previoulsy it was >50mb was a minimum 240 point charge) will result in a standardised service at this lower price point although this provides added value for the users, it may result in some of the higher end or pro-type developers moving to alternate platforms where they can price their games more competitively. If the service levels it self out as standardising at 80 points (a dollar) this in turn will be undervaluing many of the high quality games on the service and is less than what I was paying for games even back in the day, it may also not provide enough incentive for some developers to continue. That said developers who are essentially hardcore and create games out of passion rather than profit may see increased volume with increased number of titles that can be released per developer.

If you could go back in time and change one thing about the development of FireFly Vegas, what would it be and what would you do different?
I really enjoyed developing FireFly Vegas and wouldn't change the dev process it self, it was a great experience, although I will be releasing an update soon based on some of the reviewers feedback.

Making games is not an easy process, even a game which appears to be simplistic can take considerably effort and a significant time investment. Making FireFly Vegas as a one-man band was a huge challenge from the coding, graphics to creating the music was a major investment, something I really enjoyed and learnt a lot from, but a big task nontheless. So in terms of what I'd do differently, it would be to work in a team or bring in specialists where appropriate so I can focus on developing the things I enjoy and focus on the areas I think I'm good at!

Working in a team also helps bring an alternate perspective and acts as a sounding board to test any ideas prior to implementation, sometimes it's very easy to get over-familiar with your game and become unaware of the various nuances and gaming logic you've become used to over dev time, without realising how challenging they are to a first time player.

Do you all feel, as most frequently comes up on TrueAchievements, that Indie Games would benefit from a small amount of Gamerscore?
Gamerscores and Achievements have become an essential part of the online gaming experience as well as part of the social aspects of gaming through comparison and competitiveness by players, however I can appreciate that implementing this for Indie Games would be difficult to manage fairly, especially without a centralised formal approval process which can be used to weight and assign a score accordingly.

The Indie Games section contains many apps as well, so applying an achievement system which is stable and secure would prove challenging although not impossible, but would result in less differentiation between XBLIG and XBLA games, which have very different cost of entry points for developers respectively.

Do you have any future plans for more Indie Games?
I have several games currently in development both 2D and 3D, some are just concepts I've put into practice and will never likely release publicly, whilst others I will hopefully release at some point.

After completing update 1.1 for FireFly Vegas shortly, I'll be focusing on a platformer I've been working on for a while which will hopefully be released Summer 2012, and then I have a puzzle game in mind.

I don't want to rush to release games as soon as possible, but rather enjoy the development cycle and try to release a quality title, both take time and patience. For those that are interested in game creation, I'd recommend developing Indie Games it is challenging but from my experience the rewards really do compensate provided you put the effort in.
Written by mancide
When not enjoying video games, our fearless newshound enjoys an nice pint of fermented barley and hops in a variety of styles. India Pale Ales, Stouts, Porters, Witbiers, Saisons, Gose, Lambics, Barleywine, you name it. If it has water, malted barley, hops and yeast in it, I'll consume it. I also enjoy all things technological, Doctor Who, wrasslin, traveling, and spending time with my family.