4. "Launch Title" Is a Four Letter Word.
Shipping a launch title is not something I enjoy. Technical and policy issues change constantly if they're yet known at all. Although the benefits of being one of the first games on a new, uncrowded platform outweighs these issues, there can still be plenty of problems.
Making a Community Game is different because generally, you have no special publisher connections and only get information as it becomes publicly available. For Weapon of Choice, we were not involved in the New Xbox Experience beta and therefore couldn't test our game with the new dashboard.
It was very frustrating designing features like trial mode and hoping they would work; we were only able to test trial mode definitively on the day the game went on sale.
All Community Games are required to use XNA Game Studio (GS) 3.0, which was made available shortly before the channel launch. Porting to GS 3.0 was quick and painless; however, WoC level load times increased by about 40%.
It's hard to say exactly what caused this, but it was probably related to the original, string-heavy method I was using to load data (See Wrong 2.).
Figure 12. Screenshot of "MountainVillage" level with a selection of the drawings used to create the final art.
All Community Games developers had access to the beta of GS 3.0 for months. I didn't feel like I had the time or manpower to maintain GS 2.0 for development and GS 3.0 beta in a sandbox for testing, and thus only ported to the final GS 3.0 near our launch. Regardless, I had the ability to discover the loading problems and fix them earlier.
5. Turns out They Pay Managers for a Reason.
Though I did most of the work on the game I had some help in a few areas. Determining self-contained areas in which others could contribute was crucial. Story writing and music worked out perfectly. Programming and level design were a mixed bag.
Preparing prototype animations, designs, and code reference ate into some of the potential time savings of having someone else do the work. Making sure everyone was synched to the current build, and updating everyone to new Game Studio versions were hassles.
Many phone calls and emails were required to coordinate all the work, keep everyone up to date, motivated, and moving towards milestones. I learned the hard way that it's not as simple as "If something takes me three days, someone else doing it will save me three whole days!"
Well, Mommy's Best has shipped our first game, and we feel Weapon of Choice turned out pretty darn swell. Don't worry; I won't sprain anything patting myself on the back.
Microsoft made XNA to get more people into game development. I think that's a great thing. However, I saw it more as an opportunity to take my years in game development and turn it into a viable company.
I took the XNA/Community Games opportunity very seriously and dedicated more than a year, full-time, to making Weapon of Choice.
There are a lot of amazing things that had to happen to make Weapon of Choice possible. Microsoft created a free, full-featured game-making suite for anyone to use, then allowed anyone to run, publish and sell their home-brew games on the Xbox 360.
Additionally, my family and friends sacrificed a lot, and often, to help us see our game to completion. In the end, we're left with interactive art that makes me happy as a gamer every time I see or play it.
With everything we learned and created while making Weapon of Choice, I'm busting with energy and anticipation as we start Mommy's Second Best Game. Hmm... "second best"... that was supposed to come out better!
[For more on Fouts' history in the game business and the creation of Weapon Of Choice, interested readers can check out his recent interview with Gamasutra.]
Project: Weapon of Choice
Developer and Publisher: Mommy's Best Games
Platform: Xbox 360 Community Games
Release Date: November 19, 2008
Full time developers: 1
Development time: 1 year (4 months for pre-production, 8 months for production)
Hardware: AMD 2.2GHz, 1GB RAM; retail Xbox 360; stylish, 19" flat screen monitor; ancient, Buick-sized SDTV
Software: XNA, Visual Studio Express Edition, Photoshop CS2, GoldWave, Mommy's Best Level Editor, and Mommy's Best Object Editor