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Road To The IGF: Suzanne Brooks, Black Mountain Games (Putt Nutz)


February 23, 2006
 

Introduction

Continuing our 'Road To The IGF' feature, profiling and interviewing each of the finalists in the 2006 Independent Games Festival main competition, today's interview is with Suzanne Brooks, President of Black Mountain Games, the developers of zany mini-golf game Putt Nutz, which is nominated for the Innovation In Visual Art award at the 2006 IGF. The developers' description of this family putt-putt title explains:

"Putt Nutz is a fast-paced, over-the-top, single- and multi-player game featuring a family of characters, cool collectables, unique playfields and interactive course elements for the player to discover and master. Use one of the specially powered balls to uncover shortcuts, secret pathways, putt a hole-in-one or open up bonus holes."

In this interview in the build-up to the 2006 IGF, she was kind enough to tell Gamasutra about starting up Black Mountain Games, why they decided on a mini-golf game, and the advantages of the indie studio:

GS: Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?

A: Black Mountain Games is an independently-owned video game development studio founded in December 2002. The studio is located in San Diego, California where we draw much inspiration from the active community and the beautiful weather. Our focus is on creating fun, family-friendly, easy to pick up software that bridges the digital generation gap. Our approach is to obtain financing from capital venture resources in an effort to complete titles in a timely fashion and thus minimizing risk for both the publisher and the developer. Black Mountain Games is a licensed Sony PlayStation 2 developer, and currently makes games for the Sony PS2, PC/CD-ROM, and Sony PSP utilizing our own proprietary multi-platform game engine technology.



Black Mountain's Putt Nutz

While Putt Nutz is Black Mountain Games' first game, the members of our team have collectively published over 65 titles and have nearly 100 years worth of experience.

GS: Tell us a little about your game - genre, how long it took to make, what it was inspired by, why you wanted to make it?

A: Putt Nutz is a fast-paced, multi-platform, one-of-a-kind 3D miniature golf game. It is a first for new generation consoles, which is a real statement in today's market. The basis for Putt Nutz began by taking an already wildly popular, century-old game and adding a whole new flair to create a game that is fast-paced, fun, completely original, and can provide hours of fun for the whole family.

Putt Nutz features 72 stunning holes rich with interactive course elements, over two dozen collectable Golf Balls, and a fully-animated set of characters to guide you on your golfing adventure. Use the different Golf Balls to make trick shots, uncover shortcuts, discover hidden pathways, and even lower your score. Sharpen your putting skills to unlock additional courses and Bonus Holes. Collect tokens to play quick side games in the Gopher Arcade and earn even more Golf Balls!

Putt Nutz tells a story about the crazy, zany Putt Family as they embark on a miniature golfing adventure aboard their yacht, the SS Putt. Join the Putt Family as they take on the Gopher King in the Jungle Island Adventure course, recover sunken treasure while swimming with the fish in the Underwater Adventure course, and get shrunk down to four inches tall in the Miniature Adventure. Play as one of the six characters and collect your own unique golf ball. Be sure to listen carefully as the characters will provide clues about the hole and insight into their family adventure.

As parents we strove to develop a game that we could all play together that was fun, fast-paced and didn't require a huge learning curve. Miniature golf is a game that is embedded in our society and rich with history and many personal fond memories. It is also a highly successful and virtually untapped industry in regards to console games. It is not often you can say you have created the only title of its kind at this stage of the console cycle. Combine the success of the sport with the fun social nature of the game and it only felt natural to take a game we already loved, miniature golf, to a whole new level.

Putt Nutz is playable on PlayStation 2, PC/CD-ROM, and PSP.

GS: What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title, and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered development?

A: The smartest thing we did was to do our homework before we started development. We spent a lot of time in pre-production reviewing and analyzing TRST data to find those genre's that were both successful and relatively unpopulated. We also determined what our budget was going to be and matched it with those genres we would want to develop a game in. This was especially important given the fact that we are an independent developer with limited development resources. It became very clear to us when we took a closer look at the golf genre that doing a miniature golf game made perfect sense, as it had never been done before for the new generation console. We felt with no current gameplay competition, the overall successes of golf as a genre and the relatively uncrowded market, we could develop an original game within our budget and timeline that would appeal to the mass market. By doing so much extensive pre-production work before hiring a team it really helped us optimize our development dollars and stay focused on what our goals were.

Throughout the development cycle we were constantly reviewing and refining our process and it truly helped us to stay on focus by having a producer/programmer and a finance person constantly reminding us of the final product and our goal. For our first project, we are extremely proud and humbled by the amazing work put forth by our team, we honestly wouldn't change a thing. We will continue to move forward using the same foundation and philosophy in the development of all future games. However, stay tuned for the sequel to Putt Nutz as our wish list for cool features and functionality continues to grow!

GS: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?

A: While development budgets continue to grow at staggering rates the day of the independent developer is just dawning. Many big publishers are not able to invest in new and original ideas because of the substantial risks involved and thus those ideas seem to get lost in the sea of franchises and licenses. Independent developers are able to keep costs low and produce fun, great-looking, entertaining titles much more efficiently. The biggest challenge is keeping ideas original and fresh and realizing that a great game will do well with or without a license attached to it.

GS: What do you think of the concept of indie games on consoles such as the Xbox 360 (for digital download) or on digital distribution services like Steam? Is that a better distribution method than physical CDs or downloads via a website/portal?

A: Our experience is that any avenue for distribution is a good one and Indy developers need to be open and on the constant lookout for ways to get their games out to market. Additional forms of distribution will only allow the independent developer to expand their market and produce games for the console user as well as the PC user. We have found that developing for a console provides a constant in regards to technology development so that we are able to focus on gameplay versus the PC environment, which you have to develop for the technology and the endless variety of PC formats.

GS: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

A: We are extremely proud and honored to be associated with the other 18 finalists in this year's competition. To get to this stage, in a year where the number of entries nearly doubled is a testament to the quality and originality of games that are being produced. Our personal favorites are those titles that are fun to play and inherently make people think without them ever realizing it rather than just handing someone a gun to shoot and kill.

GS: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?

A: In regards to console games, our personal favorites are the Zelda and Prince of Persia series. Both have been done extremely well in regards to design, story and overall gameplay. Also, Sly 3 is an awesome game and the very definition of a platformer.



Black Mountain's Putt Nutz

GS: Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

A: Keep up the faith and never give up on your dreams. For Black Mountain Games, Putt Nutz was a vision for more than 10 years before opportunity knocked on our door. Once we opened it, we never looked back, never lost focus, and never let anyone try to change our direction or make it into a game that we couldn't be proud of. The vast majority of successful people are able to succeed not because of their ability to avoid failure, but because of their ability to learn from their failures. Plan ahead, don't be afraid to take risks, always focus on your goal, and keep your feet well grounded by being an avid gamer, and you will be well on the way to success.

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