The UK-based Blitz Games (Dead To Rights: Retribution, Droplitz) announced the Blitz 1Up initiative some time ago - a program intended to assist indie developers in bringing their games to market.
The Blitz 1Up program promises to help indie teams with distribution, PR, marketing, funding, QA, and design, and helps developers bring their games to platforms such as the PC, Mac, and Xbox Live Arcade. The company has so far signed several indie titles across multiple platforms, including Buccaneer: The Pursuit Of Infamy, Clover: A Curious Tale, and KrissX.
On top of that, the company has made a major push for Microsoft's upcoming Kinect platform, with games such as The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout and Yoostar! announced for the peripheral.
Gamasutra recently sat down with Blitz Games' chief technical officer Andrew Oliver (pictured) and business developer Chris Swan to discuss motion control games, the Blitz 1Up initiative, and distribution portals for indie titles.
Motion Controls And Casual Games
With motion control games, it looks like you're going more in the Kinect direction than Move right now. Is that true?
AO: We're very excited by Kinect, but Move has a lot of possibilities; we are doing some Move games, as well. I think they both make the market much broader and wider. I've seen some developers slightly criticize these things, but it's like, if they're into racers and shooters—that's great! Use a controller. The controller's still always there, but this will allow you new sorts of games. Just like going to a karaoke game without a microphone, there are certain types of genres that need these kinds of new devices.
There must be a race to market with certain genre types, like the fitness or dance genres, which you're tackling with The Biggest Loser. Obviously, everybody is going to pounce on it immediately.
AO: Yeah, there are a couple of obvious genres that come out, like fitness and dance. But they're good! Fitness is opening up a market. Who would have thought of selling consoles to people who are more interested in being fit? That goes against what we think of as video games quite often. And in terms of dancing, we all love music; it was great that we could sing to it. We can now dance to it, and it's really good fun! So I think there's a market here.
I've seen two different Kinect fitness games now, and obviously the person playing is trying to sync their movements with what they see the avatar doing on the screen; but the representation of themselves on the screen is off-step with him because the camera is a bit delayed. How do you reconcile that?
AO: There are various technologies involved. Some people are using a skeletal system, and it takes a little bit of time to calculate. It’s only a split second. We're actually using a different masking system, which can tighten things up. But this is all software-based, so where some people might see some little cracks, they're easily fixable by software. That is, the camera fundamentally works and gives you the input; game designers are running forward in a completely new area and learning this stuff. It's like any console. The first few games will look like nothing compared to second and third generation.
Would you say there's not actually any delay between the camera and what's happening onscreen?
AO: It depends on what technology you're using. I have seen a few games with a bit of lag, but that is the software choice of the creators; they've programmed it a certain way, and they'll come up with new techniques. We will tighten and tighten it. There doesn't need to be a lag. We can get it down to maybe two frames behind, which is pretty insignificant; you won't notice. We're just learning new tricks. Ours is pretty tight.
In terms of demographics, the 360 is very core right now, and PS3 has a little more of an advantage in that arena because many households bought it to have a BluRay player. So how do you see those demographics shaking down? Do you anticipate people buying a 360 with a Kinect for this kind of experience?
AO: Well, I was going to say I'll buy it for my kids; I jump on Xbox because I'm a hardcore gamer, but my kids don't play with the Xbox. Kinectimals and things like that are absolutely fantastic. My little kids would just absolutely love that, and our fitness game, The Biggest Loser—my wife will go for that. But she doesn't really play video games that much; she does actually play on the Wii a bit with Mario Kart. That's a family game. Actually, she keeps threatening to go to the gym, but she would actually go for a nice personal trainer in your lounge. I think it's great.
Have you had any thoughts about more hardcore stuff on Kinect or Move? Do you think that it fits or makes sense, or not?
AO: I know other developers are. We tend to do a lot of casual games. We have done a hardcore game, Dead to Rights: Retribution, but I think the first games you see are the ones that are sort of completely new genres. But I'm absolutely sure there will be some really interesting hardcore gamer titles. You can do some really wacky stuff with it, even if you were just to take something like a first-person game and make it so that you are ducking and dodging punches or whatever. That would be a fairly cool title; a boxing game would work really well.
Indie Development And Distribution
Switching over to Chris Swan: What is your intention and drive with the indie games initiative, in general?
Chris Swan: We started this 18 months ago, and it was opportunistic to begin with. We had a developer who was freelancing for us who was doing their own indie game, and they were talking to me randomly and said, “Well, we've got problems. We might not be able to finish this because we don't know how to QA it; we don't know how to do the voice recording; we don't know how to distribute it.” Blitz has been doing self-publishing for a while. We already have a PR, a QA team, localization teams; we can deal with this. So we thought, “We can strike a deal here and do win-win.” That worked so well that we formalized it into the Blitz 1Up Initiative not long after, and it is just a way for developers to get a boost to get to market. So it's not altruistic; it's meant to be that we can create a bespoke deal each time, and depending upon how many resources they want from us—if they want voice recording, that's a bit more; if they want to take some localization, that's a bit more. So we create a bespoke contract each time, and it's a revenue shared to them, scaled accordingly.
Yeah. In the case of former Insomniac designer Nathan Fouts, the Weapon of Choice fellow, did he just kind of give it to you and say, “Please make this be on the PC now,” or was it a collaborative process?
CS: It was more of a collaborative process. We've had a lot of sort of grassroots word of mouth approach to people coming to us, and he wanted to just talk about what we could do. He's quite a smart guy; he's been in the industry a long while. He knows it's quite hard to get all the distribution contracts in place with all these guys, whereas Blitz, with a portfolio of many titles, can get the doors open a little easier and get the games out there. He already does his marketing really well himself; he's very good at promoting himself. So we just talked for a while, and he said, “Well, yeah. This makes sense to do a PC version.” We're also talking to publishers about trying to take that elsewhere, as well.
Where do you see this initiative going in the near future? Are you looking to expand it dramatically, or just as it comes? Are you aggressively going after people, or are you just waiting for them to come to you?
CS: At the moment, no. We've gone through the first test phase, which was to see if we could kind of create key-turn solutions and keep the process quite minimal because we don't want to be taking too much time or resources from them and, obviously, taking a bigger revenue share. The proving test really was just to see if we could do that with a modest team size and get the process working well. Now, I think we're getting to the stage where we can start widening that a little bit more, but we're not looking for explosive growth or anything at the moment.
I guess you have a bit of a team doing this, now, where before it was sort of a side thing?
CS: Yes, it was. I was doing it part-time while being a project director and also a technical manager helping as well who is passionate about this. But now, there's myself, there's a fully assigned producer, there's a fully assigned salesman, and there's an associate producer who helps package up things and distribution across all the portals, which does take some time to get all the right assets in place for each one because they have different requirements.
So you're putting the PC ones on Steam and Direct 2 Drive and these things?
CS: Yeah, all those guys, and casual portals as well, like Big Fish—and some of the new ones that have potential, like GameStreamer. They seem to be doing some interesting things there. We're not going to ignore the new streaming solutions as well, like OnLive, so we try to spread it wide and then target the games depending on what the genre of the game is and what would be the best fit for it.
How have you found OnLive and Gaikai and those sorts of platforms to work with in terms of the technology?
CS: Technology works well when they show it to us. It's obviously going to be a test when it actually comes out and goes across seas on networks. The UK has a lot of copper wire in the ground. Is it really going to keep a good framerate for some of these games? Will all games work for it? Will a racing game work as well, or do you want more puzzle games such as the indie ones we have? It’s a bit of a “hold your breath and we shall see” thing regarding how it's going to work. I think it's definitely going to be a big future. The timing for that, I'm not too sure, but we'll certainly talk to the guys early on and try to be there when it happens.