Andreas Heydeck is no stranger to XBLIG having already released a few titles for the platform. The Swedish developer is now taking part in this year’s Indie Games Uprising event. With development wrapping up and features still to be polished, Andreas still managed to take some time to talk with us about his latest title, Smooth Operators, and what it means for him to be included in this event.
Hello Andreas and thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. Not only is your game Smooth Operators part of this event, but earlier this summer you also submitted your game for the Dream.Build.Play 2012 competition. How have the last few months been for you?
Thanks. It’s been quite busy. When i was reminded that there was going to be a Dream.Build.Play this year, the submissions had already opened a few days earlier. I started on this game from scratch that very day, and it has been a hectic schedule to get it semi-finished by DBP submissions, especially when I also have a normal day job.
Before we discuss Smooth Operators, tell us a bit about some of the other projects you’ve previously worked on.
On Xbox i’ve released Meep, which is a platform jumper á la Doodle Jump. It was the first game I developed for Xbox, and also the game i made while learning XNA and C#.
Second game was a port of Meep to Windows Phone, which I released for free.
After that i spent a lot of time starting new projects that I didn’t finish. I decided to do Meep 2 – Jumping Evolved that takes the mechanics from a platform jumper and turns it into a time trial type of game with pre-existing levels. I finally released that game on Xbox in August last year.
Do you do all of the work on each game, or do you get some outside help?
I wish I could say that I do all of the work, but I’m terrible at graphic design and even worse at making music. I really envy those indie developers that actually do everything themselves and are omni-talented. I do realize that I will never be one of those, and I accept it as the way it is. Fortunately there are really great freelance artists and sites that offer royalty-free music.
For Smooth Operators I worked with Murry Lancashire, a truly talented and commited artist, and the results came out fantastic!
What drove you to get into indie development and how did you get your start?
Funny story actually. My girlfriend’s brother, Robin, was studying artificial intelligence at college and told me about a class he’d taken with the XNA Framework. I was intrigued by getting a game released on XBLIG. So we agreed on a competition to be the first one to create a game. He never finished anything, mostly because of his studies, but I stuck with it and here I am!
Well you obviously must enjoy the process since you went on to make a few different games. I know you have a day job, but is this something you’d like to eventually turn into a career, or are you content to keep it as just a hobby?
As it stands now, I’m quite content to just keep it as a hobby. There are so many indie developers out there, and so few of them are making ends meet just off of game sales.Yeah, I do. It’s an addictive “high” to know that people around the world are enjoying something that I created.
And also, I really enjoy my ordinary job. =)
Let’s talk about your Indie Uprising entry, Smooth Operators. For those not familiar with the concept and design, can you explain what the game is all about?
It’s a strategy / simulation game about a call center. It’s a front-on 2d game where the player has to build his/her own building to facilitate employees.
You manage everything from hiring all the staff to taking out the trash. The real challenge though is to making everything run smoothly in your call center, so you have to be very active in production planning, building different business areas, making sure that your employees are happy, balancing different workloads and different clients. Everything you do, and everything you build, will have an impact on your business.
I think my first thought when seeing screenshots of the game was of Tiny Tower, or similar games that are out on the market. What inspirations did you have when coming up with both the game objectives and look?
I’ve been wanting to do this game for quite a few years. I knew what I wanted to do, but I’ve been having a hard time to figure out the proper look and mechanics for it.
First, I was aiming for a top down view or maybe isometric, but I couldn’t really get that into something that would play good and also look cool.
Then one day when I was bored I played this awesome flash game called Corporation Inc and instantly I knew that I would go for a front-on 2d game. Another inspiration is an old game called SimTower that Corporation Inc also draws inspiration from.
There have been a few people saying it looks like Tiny Tower. Gameplay-wise i dont know since I have never played it, but the graphic style is similar, and sure it was an inspiration. But I didnt want that candy/lollipop saturated color look. Murry made a couple of drafts, and we finally found the art direction I wanted.
Inspiration for the game itself is from my job. I work as a developer at a very large, multinational call center, and I’ve always thought that it’s a perfect theme for a strategy and simulation game. A bit cheesy, but still. And looking at how Smooth Operators turned out, I was right!
What is your favorite aspect of Smooth Operators and/or what are you most proud of in the game?
It’s hard to say what i’m mostly proud of in the game itself, but if I had to choose something then I’d say the client workloads functionalities which actually works and acts the same way as it does in a real call center.
My favourite aspect of the game is probably the visual representation of the simulation/AI. I can sit and just watch the simulation running for a long time, and it’s just fantastic to see it all taking care of itself. Especially when you’ve been playing for a while and started to build up different business/client areas.
Is there anything that you wanted to do that didn’t make it into the game?
Yeah, there’s always something more you’d want to put in. One thing in particular I wanted to put in was support for time-based client campaigns. That would have put in another layer of complexity for the player. But unfortunately I’m running out of time and have come to realize that this will be lacking. However, it’s probably going to be in the PC version.
I also wanted to put in more functionality for bulk actions. I realized though that the tools for that would be too dull to actually be useful, because if, for instance, you change the schedule for all your employees to start work at 8am, then all your supporting funtionalities (like elevators, diners etc.) will be overcrowded, and your employees will be more grumpy and less productive and efficient. So in the end you wont be making any money, and your employees will quit.
What are your thoughts on XBLIG and the XNA platform? Would you recommend it, and if so, who would you recommend it to?
Like many other XNA developers, I have mixed feelings towards XBLIG. XBLIG gives indie developers a fantastic opportunity to quite easily reach millions of potential customers with their creations. System-wise the standards are high, but there are no standards at all when it comes to the quality of a game. So this allows for crapware to be released, which gives XBLIG a bad reputation and drives potential customers away from the service.
XNA though, I love it! It’s easy to learn but hard to master. We dont know the future for it yet though, since Microsoft hasn’t announced anything. But in one way or another, XNA will still be around with all the projects surrounding it, like Monogame. I would still recommend XNA to all aspiring indie game developers, it holds all functionalities you need to make a cool game.
What are your plans for after the release of Smooth Operators? Do you already have new game ideas in mind?
I do, actually. There is a game in my mind that I want to do, but i’m not going to say anything about it. =)
So far, I’ve released a game every summer for the last 3 years, so maybe it’ll be out next summer. But I also believe that Smooth Operators will have a longer lifetime than my earlier games. I’m planning on releasing for PC to start with, and hopefully also for Mac and in the long run also for iPad.
What do you think about events like the Indie Games Uprising, and what does it mean to you to be involved?
It’s a fantastic thing these Uprisings, really. I think it is important that we show what the XNA community are capable of doing. There are some real gems hidden in that big pile of games. To me, it means a lot. I’ve always envied the developers in the earlier two Uprisings. For the Summer Uprising, I was thinking about submitting Meep 2 – Jumping Evolved for consideration, but I didnt. I think that the game itself holds up a quality standard, but it’s more targeted towards a less mature audience. Plus, my son had just been born so the game was secondary in my priorities.
I’m very happy being in this Uprising. It’s a real ego boost to be a part of a promotion with such skilled developers and fantastic games!
I like to give every developer we interview a final shot at pitching their game. Why should gamers play Smooth Operators?
They probably shouldn’t, beacause it’s very addictive and they’ll never leave their Xbox once they’ve started playing it. =)
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