IGS: N+ for Xbox Live Arcade - The Postmortem
In an Independent Games Summit talk on Tuesday, Metanet's Mare Sheppard and Slick Entertainment's Nick Waanders discussed the making of N+ for Xbox Live Arcade, debuting on XBLA tomorrow, taking a great in-depth nuts and bolts view of making a downloadable console game, and estimating a $125,000 minimum cost to make an Xbox Live Arcade game.
Starting out, Sheppard commented from a console starting-point: "A well-developed prototype is worth its weight in gold." She also noted it was important to prove to your distributor the game could work, commenting: "Microsoft was [initially] concerned that they wouldn't translate to HD in a very... exciting manner" - but an HD demo version convinced them otherwise.
As for how the game is funded, the Canadian duo managed to get Government funding from Telefilm for the game, with the duo explaining that it's a loan that's repaid out of profit. Sheppard then showed a full breakdown of N+'s costs - with $214,000 in total development dollars for the game.
She particularly noted that, even taking the programming in-house, it costs about a minimum of $125,000 to develop an Xbox Live Arcade title, including many of the compulsory or necessary payments for localization, testing, and so on. She did note: "Pay yourself as much as you can" with regard to salaries - in case of title delays.
Sheppard also commented on timing for the Xbox Live Arcade release, that if you're not necessarily a very high profile game: "Occasionally you'll get prioritized, or bumped." In general she praised the Xbox Live Arcade submission and publishing process as being "smooth", though.
Waanders then took a month-by-month overview of the project, starting in February 2007, when they started by borrowing the Eets codebase from fellow Canadians at Klei Entertainment, and moving through the year. He revealed a host of useful tips - including the creation of a custom visual effects editor early on, as well as early sound and UI design outsourcing.
The Slick Entertainment code also mentioned when showing the debug menus that it was a capture of "our new game" = presumably also for Xbox Live Arcade - but didn't specify what the title is. The alpha version was complete at the end of June 2007 - all the documentation and related materials took the N+ developers 3 to 4 days to complete and send to Microsoft.
Through the summer, the companies put together the ESRB and foreign ratings submission - with a 15 minute video of the game - with a document describing it. The artist doing this took 4 days.
In August, VMC (Microsoft's recommended testing partner) started testing the XBLA title, with particular problem areas being dialog boxes for potential errors, and network bandwidth issues. They also showed the game at PAX in August.
The different multiplayer modes - including local, system links, and networked ranked and non-ranked - gave the companies some problems, and TCR issues and ranked leaderboards also became an issue.
In addition, some level name changes were needed - according to Nick, Mare & Raigan at Metanet "have an uncanny ability to find level names that are not OK with Microsoft legal." The game failed certification on a single-line code bug the first time out, but was approved in January 2008.
As for lessons, things that went right included a set design, homebuilt tools that helped the developers a lot, and using PAX for focus testing. In addition, things to improve include perhaps too many features and options in the game - leading to a great deal of complex multi-mode bugs. But overall, the project was completed swiftly and efficiently - and the audience appreciate this postmortem.