Community Games: Interview with Matt Davis

We’re on day 4 here on DiehardGameFAN’s coverage of the Xbox Live Community Games. Today we will be covering the various sport games that are available through the Community Games service, so it is appropriate that on today we have an interview with the creator of easily on of the best sport games available on the service. Matt Davis, the creator of Easy Golf, was kind enough to answer some of the questions we had regarding his experience with XNA.

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

MD – I’ve always been a big fan of video games since I can remember. I ended up getting a degree in computer science and then became a programmer professionally. The main programming language I use for work is C# and we use a lot of Microsoft products such as Visual Studio. When Microsoft released the first version of the XNA Framework it was a perfect fit.

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

MD – I love golf. Many of the golf games these days try to be too realistic for my own personal taste. They just aren’t as fun as the old 8 bit golf games used to be. I just wanted to make a golf game that I would enjoy playing and hopefully a lot of other people would too. As for the course designer, I’ve always had a blast designing courses on PC golf games in the past but always found them difficult and time consuming. I wanted to make something where someone could sit down and in a few hours create some fun golf course holes to play. I’ve received some feedback on my website so far and it seems a lot of people are really getting into the course designer. I always get excited to receive emails like that.

DHGF -Can you provide a description of your game?

MD – Easy Golf is a cool little golf game. It has a course designer that allows you to easily create golf courses. Not only that, but you can share them with your friends on Xbox Live. It is a fun game that you’ll have a blast playing with your friends or family.

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

MD – Here is a good story. I spent a lot of time initially building up a prototype for the course designer on my laptop. A few months actually. Then I had finally gotten it to a point where I needed to try it out on the Xbox and see if it would work on it. So I get it running on the Xbox and start designing a hole. Everything seems pretty good till I tried to create a giant lake. I got an out of memory exception…which is really bad because one of the main constraints of console programming is memory. Right then and there I thought the whole project was doomed and the months of work were for nothing. I thought that mostly because I had a lot of other features to add in, which require additional memory, and assumed I was already against the memory limits. Luckily I dug down deep and found some ways to save memory. Wow, what a dreadful moment that was.

DHGF -How long did it take to create?

MD – I started Easy Golf around the time Dream Build Play 2008 was announced so i would figure it took about 5 or 6 months. Let me assure you though, there were a lot of hours spent on this project. Probably enough to fill Scrooge McDuck’s money bin ten times over. If I hadn’t started XNA programming since version 1.0 came out it would have probably taken me another year and a half to get it done.

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

MD – I do a lot of testing as I go along so testing the game wasn’t too hard. In programmer speak, as long as you know the boundary conditions it is pretty easy to test them without a team the size of Texas. What does become issues are things you didn’t think of. Luckily a developer can put their game in playtest before sending the game through peer review. I had a few people find some things in playtest that I didn’t think of and it helped out a lot. A few baby bugs slipped into the version that is out there now but nothing that kills the experience.

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

MD – The price point was probably the hardest part of the entire process. We developers are only given three choices for price point and none were really a perfect fit for Easy Golf. Easy Golf is really two games in one so the two lowest price points ( 200 and 400 msp ) do not reflect the game’s value. The highest price point ( 800 msp ) reflected the value of the game well. The only problem is that it is the same as many of the Xbox Live Arcade Games. I think a group of people automatically assume Community Games can’t be as good as XBLA games so don’t even bother checking out or investigating the 800 point Community Games. I feel bad for them because they are missing out on a great experience. I was a little worried people would reject Easy Golf because of the price point. I’m getting a lot of feedback though that just the course editor itself is worth 800 msp. I’m grateful for those folks giving the game a fair try and recognizing the value Easy Golf provides.

(Editor’s note: Seriously, I’ll be covering more of this game but the course editor is freaking awesome)

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?

MD – One thing I would like to see changed is the pricing structure. An option between 800 and 400 points would be nice. Say, 600 points. Another thing I’d like to see is Microsoft provide a little more awareness about Community Games. I think a lot of gamers don’t even know Community Games exist.

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?

MD – If you are interested in creating a game, I say go for it. Just realize if you are a begginer it will take time as there is a steep learning curve. Keep at it though as you’ll be learning C# along the way which in the business world can get you a nice paying career if your game development projects don’t work out.

If you are interested in purchasing XNA Community Games just remember there are people behind the games made. The more polished and professional titles have had more hours and sacrifice than you could ever possibly believe spent on them. Any game you purchase is a vote for more games just like it.

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