Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2008
entrants, today’s interview is with Torpex Games' Bill Dugan.
Dugan's eight-person team consists of himself, Jamie Fristrom, James Chao, Magic: The Gathering
creator Richard Garfield, Skaff Elias, Greg Taylor, Chip Brown and Brian Luzietti, who can claim about 12 years of game development experience, on average, each. And most of them have worked together previously in some capacity, suggesting that their long-standing partnerships and strong team dynamic might have helped influence their entry's gameplay.
They describe Schizoid
, an Xbox 360 Live Arcade game developed using XNA Game Studio, as "the most co-op game ever," calling on the teamwork skills of a synchronized duo as each partner must handle waves of enemy ships in opposing colors.
What motivated the co-op game mechanic, and where did you draw inspiration from in Schizoid's design and implementation?
Jamie Fristrom, our technical director, was at GameFest last year, and between sessions wondered about a game where you’d control two guys with the two thumbsticks. He tried out a couple of prototyping frameworks and started using XNA Game Studio, sort of by accident. He got the basic X’s and O’s prototype up in four days and we started playing it, and Richard Garfield saw it and the interaction of the ships with the enemies, and said, “That should be co-op.”
The way we tested co-op that first day was the rather socially awkward sharing of a single controller’s thumbsticks between two players. Richard was right; the co-op play has turned out to make us call Schizoid
“the most co-op game ever”, because the two ships work as a team way more closely than the partners play in any other co-op game we’ve ever seen.
We ended up with Jamie’s two-thumbsticks-control-the-two-guys game mode as one of the two single-player modes, “Uberschizoid”; and “Wingman” is the default single-player game mode, where a computer AI is your co-op buddy.
As for the art style, Jamie originally called the game “Gemini” and the enemies were all programmer-art astrology symbols; the two players were yin-yang icons, the most numerous enemy was a Scorpio icon, and so forth. James Chao, our art lead, was a little inspired by the constellations theme and started doing iterations of a sort of elaborate Scorpio constellation, which evolved into this glowing outlined organic symbolic animated red and blue art design that we have now.
What sort of development tools have you been using in the production of Schizoid?
We’re using XNA Game Studio. It appears that Schizoid
is going to be the first Xbox 360 game developed with it.
Aside from co-op, what do you think the most interesting element of the game is?
From the feedback from people we show the game, aside from co-op, the innovation that people seem to grab hold of is the single-player Uberschizoid hardcore gamer mode, where the two thumbsticks control the two players ships, as opposed to the single-player Wingman mode, where an AI controls the second ship.
People play Uberschizoid and start talking about the wiring of their brains, and some people become obsessed with mastering it. Some of these people have said the “boxing” that you do with your two hands to fight the two different colors of enemies feels less like mastering a game and more like mastering a skill.
How long has Torpex Games been working on Schizoid, and what has the development process been like?
It’s been 14 months since we got started. I think development has been pretty much as expected; there have been some unexpected curve balls due to our being the first game on the 360 that used XNA Game Studio tech, but that’s the same bleeding-edge issue that always happens, where the first shipping product puts the technology through its paces a bit. I’ll also say that the prototyping for Schizoid was amazingly rapid, we did several important things right while working on prototyping in the beginning, and XNA GSE was a great tool for it.
If you had to rewind to the start of the project, is there anything that you'd do differently?
Sure – it would be nice to be finished by now, so I would have liked to find another full time programmer to work with us from the beginning.
What are your thoughts on the state of independent game development, and are any other independent games out now that you admire?
The games competing with us in the IGF contest are awesome! Have you looked at these games? There are so many really high-quality productions there. Where are all the lame homemade-looking entries? I had been looking forward to going up against 170 weak entries and strutting to an easy victory!
You have 30 seconds left to live and you must tell the game business something very important. What is it?
In the past five years it’s become increasingly clear to me that the traditional, meticulous game design document is garbage. It’s garbage input designed to satisfy a misguided process.
Don’t get me wrong -- teams need direction, the designers need to think some things through to their logical conclusions, and outside stakeholders need insight -- but why are people expecting 50 or 80-page treatments, when for 15 years, everyone at GDC has repeatedly lectured each other that you can’t plan out “fun” ahead of time on paper?
At Torpex we’ve taken ideas from Scrum and other agile processes, and in the past few years it has become even more obvious to us that a 2-page to-do list and working code that you can experiment with and iterate upon is worth a hundred times more than any volume of design documents.