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Twisted Pixel's Bear On Switching From Indie To Microsoft

Twisted Pixel's Bear On Switching From Indie To Microsoft Exclusive

November 4, 2011 | By Mike Rose

Earlier last month, Microsoft announced the latest of its clever indie developer acquisitions -- namely, Austin, Texas-based Twisted Pixel Games, developer of such Xbox Live Arcade hits as Splosion Man and The Gunstringer.

It's an acquisition which, according to Twisted Pixel's chief creative officer Josh Bear, "made sense to both parties" given that the studio had already released several successful titles for the Xbox 360 download service.

However, it didn't exactly take much to win the Twisted Pixel guys over.

"One night when we were all drunk at a party, Ted Woolsey of Microsoft tricked Mike [Wilford, co-founder], Frank [Wilson, co-founder] and I into signing papers that handed the company over to them for 1600 MS points, and a copy of Azurik for the original Xbox," explained Bear to Gamasutra, with the company's trademark comedy-orientated line of fire immediately on show.

"So it wasn't that great of a deal on our end, but a deal is a deal, and it would be dishonorable of us to go back on what we signed," he laughed.

The acquisition will not only see Twisted Pixel sticking to Xbox 360 development for the foreseeable future, but also potentially branching out into retail titles for the console.

"We obviously have a great deal of love for downloadable XBLA releases," said Bear, "but I think what you will see from us in the future are just great games regardless of the distribution method."

He continued, "Maybe they will be XBLA, maybe they will be retail. I think it will just come down to the idea and what we want to do with it. Microsoft has been great about letting us fit in where we need to, which I think was shown with The Gunstringer which was originally XBLA, but turned into a retail title later in development."

Speaking of The Gunstringer, Twisted Pixel's first Kinect-flavored title, Bear has great things to say about the motion-controlled hardware, although at present the company isn't sure whether it will be delving back into Kinect development.

"Working with Kinect on The Gunstringer was a fun ride, and we are glad that it turned out as well as it did, especially with a short time frame and never having worked with the hardware before," noted Bear.

"As for future titles for Kinect, I think it will depend on the idea. If we have concepts that can only be done on the Kinect platform, or will be that much more fun without a controller, then I am sure we would jump at it."

"What we don't want to do is make something for Kinect just to make it, it has to make sense for the game," he reasoned. "I think Microsoft understands that as well and wants to make sure Kinect experiences are vastly different than what you could do with a controller."

Now that Twisted Pixel is a Microsoft-affiliated brand, a number of obvious questions need to be asked. The first is regarding the iOS title the studio was working on, which must now have surely been canned.

Unsurprisingly, Bear is reluctant to discuss the project, although he does offer a glimmer of hope. "There will definitely be some info in the coming months," he hinted. A Windows Phone release instead for the as-of-yet unannounced title, perhaps?

The other question is one of indie integrity. Having launched as an independent developer in 2006, and most definitely exuding that much sought after 'indie spirit', does Bear feel that the company still has that unique edge?

"Honestly, I think that spirit is stronger today than it was even when we started," he answered.

"I think that will be shown to an even greater degree once we unveil the next projects that we are working on -- they are definitely 'out there' ideas in a really good way. If you look at the history of our company, The Maw was probably the safest of anything we have done."

"With each game we have become more comfortable being who we are, and I think that is a good thing," he explained. "Microsoft understands that, and didn't partner with us just to keep us from being Twisted Pixel anymore. They want us to continue being us, whatever that means. (laughs)"

However, Bear noted that he is aware of the company's past segregation from the indie scene.

"I think a lot of indies have never considered us 'indie' because we either came from a retail background or that our games were a little bit bigger or more console like."

"To me that is complete bullshit," he said bluntly. "The guys here at the company have worked their asses off to deliver high quality games to players and we continue to get better. And we haven't just put out one game and rested on our laurels... we have continued to put out content and new IP on a regular basis."

What's next for Twisted Pixel then? As we ask, Bear's silly side once again rears its humorous head.

"We are currently trying to turn our Beard engine into SkyNet, so that our games will have neural net processors in them; learning computers," he explained. "That way the games can make themselves and we can all get some sleep up in this bitch."

Switching to his serious face, he continued, "Other than that, we are currently working on some new stuff that I think will push our concepts and polish level forward."

"We are all proud of the games we have made, but I know every time we finish one I look back at it and think 'that is complete shit, we need to be better.'", he admitted.

"And I think all we want to do is keep trying to make better and cooler stuff. And I feel confident we are on the way to that."

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