Interview November 2008 by Jamie Davies.
As part of Microsoft new Community Games feature, launching with the New Xbox Experience on 19th November, were promised lots of new Xna developed games for us to get our hands on. One of these is colourful, yet gory, Weapon of Choice. We got the chance to ask President of Mommys Best Games , Nathan Fouts (who also worked on Ratchet & Clank and Resistance: Fall of Man on the PS3), about the game.
Mommy’s Best Games is a pretty unique name for a developer – what’s the story behind it?
The actual origin is just an old inside joke with a friend. He likes to say that his Mom loves him the best out of all of her children. We decided to use it as a company name because we liked the disarming quality it has in relation to the often aggressive feel a lot of game company’s names. We also thought it would be an entertaining contrast to our own aggressive sounding game titles.
Your game is entitled Weapon of Choice – what’s it all about and how did it come about?
Weapon of Choice is a high-energy, side-scrolling action game with crazy weapons and even crazier aliens. If you like science-fiction and enjoy fighting monsters, this game is for you. There will be a 4 minute timed trial when the game launches on November 19th on Xbox Live Community Games, so everyone will have ample opportunity to try it out.
Weapon of Choice was the third place winner in Microsoft’s Dream Build Play competition and we’re very proud of it.
Weapon of Choice evolved from my love of 16-bit side scrolling run ’n’ gun games, my affinity for hideous monsters, and my obsession in creating outrageous weapons.
You seem to be aiming for a pretty unique group of players – what you term as `Prodigal Gamers”`. How have you done this with Weapon of Choice and what can players expect from it?
Weapon of Choice has many factors in play to allow for more people to enjoy the game than a typical hard-core style game.
The most important is “Death-Brushing”. Death-Brushing is a feature in which any moment you are about to die, the sky darkens, time slows down, and just before you die, you get a chance to dodge the attack. It’s always active and automatic (you don’t have to worry about turning it on, or running out of it).
Death-Brushing makes the game very dramatic, and still very tension-filled because you can just barely dodge shots and attacks but still make it out alive. The new game trailer coming out before launch will show it in action.
The game also has new soldiers that you can rescue, each with their own Weapon of Choice and special abilities. The guns are easy to use, but also have a lot of depth to discover, appealing to hard-core gamers. Also, levels branch mid-game. Depending on which path you choose, you’ll experience one of the four totally unique endings. All this equals tons of replayability!
The most hard-core players can choose “Hard mode.” Rather than just having enemies with more health, enemies have the same amount of health but there are a lot more of them! Each level is actually independently designed for Hard and Normal mode. There are new enemy setups, more enemies overall, and even some environmental changes. I love playing in Hard mode because so much is thrown at you at once.
The game has a pretty strong art style. What were the main influences?
I like seeing sketched, pencil art for monsters. I do like the finished, painted art, but I really like seeing the underlying pencil work. I wanted that grittiness of the pencil to show through in this game. As far as artistic influences, I like lots of different artists, and I’m always on the look out, whether on the web or in book stores, for new artists.
For Weapon of Choice, the art style was influenced most by the works of Patrick Woodroffe, Wayne Barlowe, and Albrecht Durer, (although just about everything I’ve seen or enjoyed plays into it too). Ocean life has also played a large role.
Given that the genre is usually quite dark and Weapon of Choice itself has an emphasis on blood and violence, the use of such a bright colour palette is quite unusual. Was this contrast a conscious decision that you were set on from the start?
After working on Resistance: Fall of Man, I wanted a new monster game that had lots of color. Between RFOM and GOW, I was tired of monster games with little color. I wanted gritty detail, but ridiculous colors. Someone recently said it looked like ‘an acid trip’. I take that as a compliment.
With future MBG games, the art style will change, but I like the contrast of bloody action, but fruity colors. Hmm.. blood and fruit.. that’s pretty gross.
Weapon of Choice is coming as part of Microsoft’s new Community Games on November 19th. What’s it been like working on this platform and with Microsoft?
It’s been a great experience. The forums are very supportive of new developers, and the XNA tools are well fleshed out. XNA keeps getting better with each release (3.0 came out Oct. 30!), and I think anyone thinking about game programming should download Game Studio and give it a try. It’s still a ton of work, so get other people involved, but it’s much easier than it used to be.
As the game is slated for release at the same time as the introduction of the new Community Games section, have you felt any additional pressure from being one of the first few titles on there?
The pressure is there to try to hit the deadline. We really want to release on November 19th and we’re pushing hard for that. It’s definitely strong motivation but it also makes us look that much closer at the game itself to make sure it’s polished.
Is there one thing in particular that stands out that you’ve learnt from developing the game?
If the chips are down, I hope you’ve spilled barbeque flavored, because those are the tastiest to pick back up.
Downloadable games have really taken off with this generation thanks to the XBLA, PSN and WiiWare. Do you think these platforms have made it easier for people like yourselves to put out games that wouldn’t ordinarily have been made?
Definitely. The barrier to entry is much lower and the risk for the publishers and console makers is also lower. Because of the cost reduction with minimal materials to produce and create a game, the cost is also down for the consumer and therefore lower risk for them. With a playable demo for most of those games, it’s really easy for gamers to try them out and make an educated purchase.
Plus, who in the big, corporate world of games would let the player fight a running nut-sack?
Are there any downloadable titles that have stood out for you so far and why?
A lot of strong looking games were entered into the Dream Build Play 2008 competition but I’ll stick to games I’ve played personally. Showtime Carnevale (circus-inspired swinging, action game), AAG (wild 4th-wall-breaking adventure), Zeit2 (time-controlling shooter), Swarm (base-building missile command), Megachile Pluto (Green Mario Galaxy), Biology Battle (Geometry Wars inside the body), Colosseum (cel-shaded Thumbstick fighter), Gymnast (addictive, gymnastics arcade-sim). While not action, even Word Soup is really fun and addictive.
What do you see as the future for the downloadable services?
Imagine the most specific, niche titles, such as very number-based, space-simulation/trading games with sparse graphics. Only a handful of people are needed to make this game. And they may only need 20,000 sales to stay a float. With the New Xbox Experience, Microsoft will host a website that links to Game-specific web pages, that allows you to download the game to your 360 for purchase. Because each gamer that’s interested will be able to find very specific games, I think it’s a lot more possible for everybody to improve their quality of life. Developers get to make their different games, and gamers get to find those very specific games.
Are there any plans to work on any of the other download services?
We want to do our best here to have a great start with Weapon of Choice on the Xbox 360. The game will be available for the PC early next year. But all new opportunities are always considered.
After Weapon of Choice is there anything else in the pipeline?
Absolutely. We’re not talking about it yet, but it will feature great 2D art, wild new gameplay, yet fairly different from Weapon of Choice. Once things calm down a little next year we’ll be able to start talking about Mommy’s Best Games new adventure.