Community Games: Interview With Nathan Fouts

Nathan Fouts is the creator of the Xbox Live Community Game Weapon of Choice.

Nathan Fouts of Mommy’s Best Games took the time to answer a few of our questions about his Community Game, Weapon of Choice. Nathan is no stranger to video game programming having been a part of the development teams for Ratchet and Clank, Resistance: Fall of Man, and Postal 2.


DHGF-What inspired you to make and game, and what drew you to using XNA?

Nathan Fouts: After playing dozens of different side-scrolling games from the 16-bit era I was determined to make a rocking, new, side-scrolling game for today’s crowd. I wanted to ensure it had a unique art style and added new gameplay elements to make the game as fun and tension-filled as possible. XNA was the perfect fit for Weapon of Choice since professionally I’ve worked as a gameplay programmer and not an engine-level software engineer. XNA handles all the low-level problems allowing developers to focus on game specifics.

DHGF-How’d you come up with the idea for your game?

NF – I carefully deconstructed some of my favorite side-scrollers and worked to create new gameplay features like Death-Brushing, which allows you to flirt with death and pull off amazing escapes.

DHGF -Can you provide a description of your game?

NF Weapon of Choice is a high-energy side-scrolling action game with crazy weapons and even crazier aliens. If you enjoy fighting the biggest, gnarliest aliens this side of the Van Allen belt, you should try out the demo on Xbox Live Community Games.

DHGF-Any stories you’d like to share about the developmental process for the game?

NFWeapon of Choice took home 3rd place in Microsoft’s international Dream Build Play competition. The week before we were able to submit our game to the contest an unprecedented wind storm created by hurricane Ike blew through the mid-west and knocked out power in some of southeastern Indiana. I actually packed up everything””computer, 360, router, controllers, baby, and wife””and had to invade my sister’s house in Indianapolis, which fortunately still had power, in order to submit the game to the contest in time.

DHGF-How long did it take to create?

NF – The same number of months you multiply the number of letters on the vexillum of the Ancient Roman Empire by three. (Matt’s note- I have no clue!)

DHGF-Can you describe the process of finishing, testing, and then completing your game?

NF – Finishing the game was coincident with thorough testing. We had people testing different levels as I finished up game endings, and some art in other areas. We had 4 dedicated testers scattered to the four winds, but other people would try out the game along the way as well. While it was easy to think testing it on the PC was sufficient, it was crucial to constantly test it on the Xbox 360.

Completing the game with XNA Game Studio 3.0 was easier than it has been on projects on which I’ve worked in the past. Game Studio allows you to package up the game into a single file and upload to the creators.xna.com site. You also have to add screenshots, box art, and a trailer as per the faq on the site. All of this takes extra time for which you may not have initially budgeted but it makes for a good marketplace presentation when it’s finished.

DHGF-Was it difficult trying to figure out a price point for your game?

NF – I went through many sleepless nights trying to decide the price for Weapon of Choice. At over 100MB we were only allowed to pick 400 points or 800 points. Obviously 800 points is the most enticing, but considering Community Games are brand new and gamers don’t know what to expect just yet, it only seemed reasonable to aim for more gamers who know about the game rather than more profit. In the end we priced Weapon of Choice at 400 points. We’re looking to release a second game in 2009 and we want a solid gamer base ready to play it!

DHGF-The Community Games just recently launched on Xbox Live, is there anything you’d like to see changed or added to the service in the future?

NF – The option to have box art for Community Games looks much better than I imagine Community Games would have looked on the old dashboard. As for changes, I’d still like to see the descriptors (violence, sex, etc) separated from the text description of the game to make it all more understandable. That goes for Live Arcade games as well.

DHGF-Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone out there who might be interested in creating a game or using the XNA service?

NF – I think they should definitely go to creators.xna.com and download Game Studio 3.0 and Visual Studio Express. If you just want to experiment, all of this is free. You only need to pay for a membership once you decide to publish a game.

The forums can also be helpful for people who can do art or programming or sound effects, but not everything. You can meet up with others to help form a grand coalition capable of game development magic!

DHGF-Specifically concerning Weapon of Choice, it seems it’s one of the more popular of the Community Games at the moment, what do you attribute to its popularity?

NF – I guess gamers were just hungry to shoot engorged alien teats and otherworldly genitalia. (Matt’s- He just nailed the reason I bought it!)

DHGF-How did you come up with the art style for Weapon of Choice?

NF – I’m a fan of the Old World masters like Rubens and Caravaggio but also of more contemporary artists like Barlowe and Brom. I wanted something new that had a sketched style to it but was more vivid than the way colored pencils generally come out. It took a lot of different experiments to settle on the final method.

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