Community Games: Interview with Aaron Teplitsky
Here we are on day two of the feature with another interview, this time with Aaron Teplisky who created Snake360. Well be covering Snake360 a little later in the week, but in the meantime take a moment to read about the development process it takes to make a community game.
Contest Information If you are interested in the game Snake360, be aware that Aaron is hosting a contest for the game with some great prizes. More details can be found at the official website for Snake360 HERE
DHGF-What inspired you to make and game, and what drew you to using XNA?
AT – I’ve always been interested in video games and programming, since almost 25 years ago when I started with both: video games on an Atari 2600, and programming on a Commodore 64. I made a lot of small, text-based games on that platform, and some slightly more sophisticated stuff with the “Garry Kitchen’s GameMaker” software, which was quite advanced for its time–it even had a built-in programming language!
I’ve had the desire to make a “real” game for years, and the closest I’d ever come was with some relatively simple stuff done with QBasic and MFC (you can see it at www.hiaaron.com). I got some info on Direct3D, but never got around to learning enough and taking enough time to get started. But XNA changed everything. Getting into it was so simple; there was virtually nothing to learn. I’d never worked with C# before and that transition was very easy too. I started development before Community Games was announced, but once the promise of making money was mentioned, I realized that XNA most definitely had been the right call to make. Microsoft is making it not only possible, but easy, to jump in and make games that can be played the world over. And while not all of them are going to be good, many are.
DHGF -How’d you come up with the idea for your game?
AT – I’d done a snake game before (“Nibbles2”), and really enjoyed creating as well as playing it; it became popular among people I knew. But I really wanted to create a more modern version. The version I created before was text-based, and nobody is going to seek out a text-based game, so I knew I wanted to make a version with sharp 3-D graphics. I was at least somewhat successful. I feel that the graphics are extremely functional, and I’m really happy with the way it animates and how the camera moves. But most of the complaints I’ve had about the game so far have been with the graphics, so I know that next time, I should probably get the help of an artist. =)
There were also some gameplay ideas I wanted to implement. My last snake game had one set of 30 levels, played in order. But not everyone has the time to play 30 levels in one sitting, and multiple difficulties were a good idea. So I came up with the system of playing courses consisting of 8-10 levels and I think it works really well. I’d say this was the biggest gameplay-related change from the old version to the new one, except for the fact that this version plays much more smoothly than a text-based game ever could.
DHGF -Can you provide a description of your game?
AT – Snake360 is an action-packed snake game with 300 levels that can be played in single-player or co-op mode. Difficulties of these levels range from really easy to insanely hard. It also has a survival mode for one player with the more traditional-style “last as long as you can” gameplay. The icing on the cake: two 4-player battle modes, normal and suffocation, which is an absolute blast to play. All of the modes can be customized to make them more enjoyable, with features like turbo speed. There are also a lot of unlockable features including a marathon mode. Plus, there’s Internet Ranking, and we have several hundred scores posted already so there’s real competition out there!
DHGF -Any stories you’d like to share about the developmental process for the game?
AT – One thing that I think is remarkable is the sheer number of places Snake360 was worked on. I bought a MacBook, and most of the development was done on that MacBook. I devoted almost all of my free time to the game, and when any opportunity presented itself I grabbed the laptop and got busy. Work was done on Snake360 in my apartment, on trains, in doctor’s office waiting rooms, on toilets, in a hotel in Puerto Rico, at my desk at work during lunch breaks and after-hours, and in many other places.
The best part was testing. Over the course of the months the game was developed, we ran it at parties several times. Most of the time testing was spent in battle mode, and the people playing had a great time, especially with Suffocation Battle mode. When they started screaming and yelling, and watching the replays over and over, I knew I’d put together something special. We also found and squashed a lot of bugs this way =) You would think that a game like this would be fairly simple, but there’s about 15,000 lines in the final code.
DHGF -How long did it take to create?
AT – Snake360 was developed over the course of 11 months. I worked more on it during some months than others, but beginning in August I started really grinding it out, working on it for most of my free time. I juggled that, my full-time job, some side work and chores at home. It was a grueling experience and I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone! But I’m proud of the results and I hope folks enjoy them.
DHGF -Can you describe the process of finishing, testing, and then completing your game?
AT – I was really hoping to have an entire month of testing before release but things just didn’t pan out that way. In the process of finishing up the features that needed to be in there, fine-tuning the levels and adding some polish, it turned out to actually be about a week. But that turned out OK; the game was tested extensively during development, more so than I even expected. Many of the Community Games that went through Peer Review failed, many even several times. It was usually for careless reasons, like not considering the possibility of the player pressing B on the “select storage device” screen. But I found that I’d considered just about everything before I went into review–with a LOT of help from my friends and family– and I passed with flying colors. I’ve played 100% of the game and just about all of the issues I ever found are gone. It’s a release-quality game.
DHGF -Was it difficult trying to figure out a price point for your game?
AT – No; I always intended to ask 400 points for it. It’s a great value. It takes over 3 hours to play through all of the levels, and that’s if you never crash at all. Most people will get at least 10 hours out of single-player, and possibly more if they compete on the Internet Ranking. Battle mode has infinite replayability. $5 for that kind of replay value is unheard of these days. I’m going to take a risk and boldly state that I feel it has more value for your money than just about anything else on Community Games OR Xbox LIVE Arcade.
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?
AT – The time-limited trial mode stinks. Something needs to be done about it; 4 minutes is not enough. Also, there needs to be some sort of user rating system, so that the cream, like Snake360, Weapon of Choice, Smashell, Galax-e-mail, etc. can always be more visible than the Kitchen Sink Wars, Garrett the Slugs and Swords & Monsters that wind up there. As it is, it’s hard for players to pick out the quality games, and even harder when they can only try them for 4 minutes.
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?
AT – There is a growing media bias against Community Games. I know because I’ve been trying to promote my contests. This shouldn’t be all that difficult, as we’re offering $450 in prizes, and nobody else is currently running a gameplay contest on any Xbox 360 games. It’s newsworthy and interesting to all players…who doesn’t want to win prizes? And yet, I’ve submitted the story to no fewer than six major gaming sites, and none of them have run the story. Also, paid advertising on Google or Facebook is almost entirely ineffective. So if you’re looking to create a Community Game, you will have to deal with the fact that promotion is nearly impossible.
My biggest hope, beyond creating something that people around the world enjoy, is to get noticed and find a job in the gaming industry. Because of the media bias against Community Games, I now feel like I have virtually no shot at getting noticed. This, I think, is the biggest hurdle to anyone looking to jump into Community Games.