Arguably equal parts indie game developer and indie promoter, Fun Infused Games founder Kris Steele has gained notoriety within the indie gaming social media sphere. From creating a library of games on various platforms to co-coordinating last year’s Indie Games Summer Uprising event on the Xbox, we have a lot to discuss in this frank chat. Sit back and enjoy!
The Indie Mine: Kris, here at The Indie Mine we became acquainted with your work around the time you were porting Hypership Out of Control! to iOS, but by then you were already a veteran of a few released games on the 360. Going back even further, how did you get into indie development in the first place?
Kris Steele: Finishing a game is a tough, long process and it always takes longer than you expect it to. It’s hard to finish a game, something that is a lot more apparent once you try to do it yourself. It’s often because unexpected issues arrive and can hang you up. With my first game Nasty, I had difficulty getting out all the bugs out of the collision detection. It would work 99% of the time but then suddenly you’d land or turn around and your character would jump across the screen. It’s hard to catch that happening. The game runs at 60 frames per second so each of the collision detections is done 60 times a second. It can be challenging to find that one instance where it doesn’t work as planned.
With my first games, I learned not to let my expectations run wild. There are lots of people making games and only a handful that strike it rich with their first couple titles. I expected too much and I was disappointed.
The Indie Mine: You’re arguably best known for your game Hypership Out of Control! and the Hypership series in general. Where did the inspiration for that game come from?
Kris Steele: I had a game on my graphing calculator in high school where you were a triangle (I think it was supposed to be a car) and you kept going faster and faster as the road you were on curved and progressively got more narrow. It was a very quick, shallow game but I liked the idea. I brought that game to space, added lots of power-ups and collectibles, and a pinch of humor. It worked out pretty well.
The Indie Mine: Oddly enough I know the exact game you’re talking about. Moving on, you’ve become a well-known figure in the XBLIG development scene, but you’ve also received notoriety for your involvement in the Uprising events that indie developers have undertaken to promote XBLIG. How did you come to be involved and what have you taken away from those events?
Kris Steele: There was an open call to XBLIG developers to submit their titles for the Winter Uprising, which I entered my game Hypership Out of Control! into. I wasn’t really involved in the heavy lifting of that promotion, I just supplied a title and did my best to let me fans know about it. There was occasional talk of another promotion for some months after that but no one really stepped up and made it happen so I decided to take a lead fearing it otherwise may never come to pass. I partnered with Dave Voyles of ArmlessOctopus.com and we collected feedback from other developers, organized voting and promotion dates, and recruited a few others to help out with the website, trailers, and music. It was really a community event.
The Indie Mine: You were recently quoted in a GamaSutra article regarding your dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s dashboard changes and the effect it’s had on XBLIG sales. You’ve also been outspoken in other venues as well claiming that XBLIG isn’t really the way to go for indie developers to be successful. Do you still feel this way? Do you think there’s anything Microsoft or anyone else can do to help the service thrive?
Kris Steele: I still feel the same unfortunately. The tools for making XBLIG are really great and in that regard it’s a fantastic place to learn. But outside some pretty specific genres / game types, sales just aren’t there for most developers. I believe this to be mostly a visibility and a filtering problem. XBLIG has been moved around and push back too much on the Xbox Dashboard. Casual gamers don’t happen across it as often as they used to. Within the channel, there is a high volume of games released but no good way to tell the good from the bad. Apple has done well on the AppStore with their New and Noteworthy list, which includes quality new titles. XBLIG would benefit a lot from a setup like this rather than a straight list of new releasing being the most visible area of the channel. I believe if gamers found more high quality content, they’d come back more often.
The Indie Mine: So I take it this means you intend to steer clear of the platform going forward? I know you’ve already ported Hypership to iOS.
Kris Steele: For my larger games, the stuff that takes 6 months or a year or more, for sure. It’s too much risk and not enough return to justify those efforts. If there is something I can do in the course of a few weeks that makes sense for the market, I wouldn’t rule it out.
The Indie Mine: What’s up next for you? Will you be doing more ports, or do you plan to start new games and franchises on other platforms? Do you already have some ideas in mind?
Kris Steele: Mainly I’m working on a PC port of Volchaos, a lite version of Hypership iOS, and World of Chalk, which we’ve switched from XBLIG to a PC release. When I get some of the ports done, I’d like to do a brand new iOS title next. I’ve also worked some on my next big game, which will be similar to the SNES Legend of Zelda title. But that’s still a long ways off though.
The Indie Mine: What’s your end goal as an indie developer? Do you plan to continue flying relatively solo? Do you want to someday have a studio? Or do you want to break into the mainstream at some point?
Kris Steele: I like to have full creative control over what I’m working on which kinda rules out working for someone else. Perhaps some day that does means having some employees if things go really well, but I’m getting by fine so far with contract work for the aspects of game development I can’t do well myself (art and music mostly).
The Indie Mine: Looking back, is there any particular game or moment you’re really proud of or that you especially look back fondly on?
Kris Steele: Hypership iOS was recently nominated for a Pocket Gamer Award for Best Action / Arcade Game (http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/pgawards2012.asp). Considering how many thousands of mobile games are released yearly and what kind of competition we had for this award, this was huge. We didn’t win, but it was really an honor to be nominated alongside other games like Super Mario 3D Land, GTA3, and eventual winner Jetpack Joyride.
The Indie Mine: Before you go, is there any wisdom you’d like to expound either to fellow indie developers or gamers out there?
Kris Steele: Go out and make something. You’ll learn infinitely more by doing than by sitting on the sidelines. Read a game programming book, read some tutorials. There are lots of free or cheap ways to get into game programing. If you’re passionate about making games, you’ve got no excuses not to start making them right now.
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