Are you one of those people? Would you like some more insider information on what it's like to develop an indie game? Mike Hanson, the one-man development team behind the upcoming indie title Power Up, has been talking with GoozerNation for some time now. We first announced his title and gave his backstory, then helped spread the word about his Kickstarter campaign. Now, we're reaching the twilight of primary development, nearing the time to submit the game for review.
Mike has always been great at dropping a few paragraphs on what it's like working in the game industry based on the questions I send him. This time around, I was curious on what it took to get "in" with Microsoft for game publishing, as well as his thoughts on the upcoming Xbox One and indie games. While he has yet to officially submit his game, he is jumping through the Microsoft hoops to get the project started. Here's what he has to say:
XBLIG publishing process, eh. Well, it's early days as I haven't submitted to the App Hub for testing yet. At the moment, I'm dealing with optimizing my art, music and file organisation so that Powerup loads as fast as it possibly can on the device. In my initial tests, I got the game running 60% of the time but running out of memory the other 40% of the time. It turns out that the Xbox 360 is considerably behind the capabillities of my PC and that's 4 years old now! On top of this, my loading time was somewhere in the region of 90 seconds for all the in-game assets on device. Obviously, this was far too long and I was hoping for something more in the region of the 10-15 seconds it takes on PC.
With that in mind, I went back to the drawing board with regards to file organisation for my art assets. Researching the cause of the monstrous 360 load times, I found that the most likely culprit in this particular problem was the Xbox's file "seeking" time. Hundreds of files at 0.3 seconds each, can end up taking quite a while to seek... So, I created single sprite sheets for each level's content, plus a couple of additional sprite sheets for content that's common over all levels and so far it's all working on my PC build.
I'm clearing up the ensuing bugs at the moment but later this week I'll be testing my optimisations on the Xbox itself. All being well there, I'll be moving on to changing the way the game saves data for the Xbox as this is also different to the PC version and again, is a bit of an unknown quantity. Once I'm happy with that I should be in a position to submit for peer-testing on the App Hub. It's at about that point that I should have more to tell you on the submission and publishing process. Exciting!!
One thing I did note, and something which relates to the publishing process at an early stage, was that actually paying for my App Hub membership (which allows a developer to build their game on the Xbox, submit to peer-testing and ultimately release a game) was a bit of a nightmare. I don't know if it comes from Microsoft dropping support for XNA/XBLIG development in their priorities, but put simply, I found the App Hub purchase site to be broken; misinforming me that my App Hub payment had failed when in fact, it had gone through.
In a nutshell, this led me to pay for my membership twice. Now, judging by the enormous potential wage offered to me when I was applying for work with them this is something that might not worry a Microsoft employee, but to an unemployed artist at the end of his savings (that's me), £65 is quite a big deal, and I'm yet to see my second payment returned. I'm not a big games company with games company money. I'm just a person trying to get my first game off the ground and would hope to be seen as such... So, yeah, there's an area of indie publishing that Microsoft would really benefit in tightening up with the Xbox One: Understanding their Indie Developers.
As for the Xbox One, the announcement of that console came when I was well into production on Powerup, but now that they're talking about indie publishing on that console too, yeah, I'm intrigued, but I won't be getting too excited about it yet as we're yet to see or hear any solid information on the subject... good that Microsoft appears to be listening though and that they're considering making some concessions for us humble indies, but if my XBLIG/App Hub publishing process so far is anything to go on, I'm not holding my breath for an easy ride.
It is interesting to note the minor nuances that arise for developers, something like a hardware change or port can make huge differences simply based on how the system accesses data, and the realization that a 10-second loading time versus a 90-second load could make or break the game's sales given the speed of information spread on the internet. You really have to watch every angle in order to succeed.
If you are ready to jump on the Xbox One publishing bandwagon but would like more information, keep up with us here at GoozerNation and follow @psypsoft on Twitter. We will be following Mike through the publishing process on the 360 and giving more information as the Xbox One approaches.