In our latest interview, we talk with Shahed Chowdhuri, an indie developer releasing games under the studio name OnekSoft Games. As you’ll soon see, Shahed is a rarity in the development world. Not only is he creating games, he’s also developing the tools that will aid other aspiring indie developers in bringing their visions to life.
Brandon: Shahed, can you get us started by telling me a little about yourself and your history with OnekSoft Games?
Shahed: I work as a Senior Consultant in the DC Metro area, and have over a decade of experience in web/software development, primarily in Microsoft technologies. I tried dabbling in XNA over the years, and flipped through a few books and tutorials recently. I came home from work one evening, and decided to make a simple Math game, and thus 2D Math Panic was born. I put it through testing and review, and it got published in Sep 2011. I would have been happy with 1 free download, but I was pretty excited when it crossed 2,000 trial downloads and 150+ sales.
For my next project, I used the Platformer Starter Kit, within the Game State Management sample, and released Angry Zombie Ninja Cats in November 2011. I changed the default behavior and interactions of the in-game characters and replaced all the graphics and sounds. Once again, I would have been happy with any sales at all. But, I was quite pleased with 5,000+ trial downloads and 400+ sales within 2 months.
I had put together a spreadsheet for myself, to squeeze out some business intelligence from the sales data. I found it easier to create a web-based tool that would auto-generate the charts I wanted. And so, the XBLIG Sales Data Analyzer was published on OnekSoftLabs.com. Word got around quickly, and I was taking requests from developers worldwide.
I hit some limitations with the current Analyzer’s 1-button design, so I started working on a more personalized mySDA. The mySDA tool will allow login, uploads, cached reports, customized charts, and much more!
In the meantime, I also began work on my next game project, now in the concept and design phase. But first, I wanted to create a template that would contain all the basic elements of an XNA game that is required to pass through the testing/review process. Inevitably, this turned into the XNA Basic Starter Kit. It can be used by any developer who wants to start a new project, and focus on the game design.
I got some criticism for the simple drawing style of Ninja Cats, and to be honest, that was all done in PowerPoint. I can draw better than the average person, so I started publishing my drawings on Facebook to get some feedback. This includes drawings of various styles using pencil, ink, Corel Draw, Toon Boom Studio, Bamboo Drawing Tablet, even an iPad!
Brandon: I’ve noticed a definite trend with your development in that you’ve moved from creating your own indie games to creating tools to aid other indie developers. Why is that?
Shahed: Actually, it’s more a “branching out” rather just “moving on”. I created the tools for myself at first, then decided to publish them when I realized that other developers would find them useful.
The tools would not have existed if I never made any of my own indie games. And I wouldn’t be able to make better indie games unless I had these tools to guide me. From starting a project (with the Kit) to understanding the market (with the Analyzer), I can now use my own tools for my game project.
My first 2 games grew out of book samples, starter kits, and online tutorials. I hope that my tools will help others grow their projects as well. In fact, I plan on branching out further to other platforms, such as iOS and Android soon.
Brandon: How supportive do you feel like the indie game development community is?
Shahed: The support from the indie community has exceeded my expectations many times over. From answering the same old questions during the review process to providing critical feedback after a game release, the developers, reviewers and gamers have contributed more to my projects than I could have ever dreamed of. Some developers don’t like harsh criticism, but I think that we should take all feedback seriously. It shows emotional maturity, and also helps us improve ourselves. To developers, I say: if someone doesn’t like something about your game, try to listen and fix it if possible. If you strongly disagree, try to explain your point of view without the namecalling. You may discover that there is, in fact, a problem you would like to address. Just keep in mind that you may not be able to convert those who will never enjoy your game. You can at least make things better for those who really want to like your game, but have some issues with it. This is the community at its best. Reasonable people will understand if you just don’t have the the time or ability (or the desire) to give them what they’re asking for. But they will really appreciate it when you take the time to address issues, or explain why you can’t.
Brandon: It’s refreshing to hear you say that. With a relatively open platform like XBLIG, you run into developers of all sorts of maturity levels. As a reviewer, you can never really be sure how they’ll respond to criticism. So what brought you into the indie development scene?
Shahed: I kept downloading the free tools from Microsoft every year, but never got very far. When I finally read “Learning XNA 4.0″ in 2011, I decided to make my first indie game.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sell a lot of units, but I had to be realistic about what I could publish in a short time. The world of indie games is a lot of things to a lot of people. Some people want it to be only one thing to suit their purpose, e.g. harsh critics expect only polished titles while hobbyists just want to get their feet wet.
For myself, I knew that I won’t be able to create a AAA game unless I get my feet wet first. I believe that “The person who only shoots for the moon will never get there, but the person who starts building a ladder is already a step ahead.”
It’s okay to have a lofty goal in our sights, but we have to recognize what it will take to get us there. Each of us have our own limitations, be it time, money, ability, desire or motivation.
The low entry barrier allowed me to get in, and the community enticed me to stay.
Brandon: Have you been happy with the outcome of games like Angry Zombie Ninja Cats? Or do you get a greater sense of satisfaction from the tools you’ve created to help other indie developers?
Shahed: Yes, I am happy with the outcome of my games. I have found that the best way to measure your own success is to set the right expectations. I made the first working version of 2D Math Panic in 1 weekday evening after work. For Angry Zombie Ninja Cats, it was 2 weeks. Sure, it would have been nice to get more sales, but I was happy with the tiny profit and the lessons learned.
After the November release of AZNC, I published an update in December and another in January, based on some customer feedback. During this time, I started working on the sequel Ninja Cats X, for which I continued to develop a core game engine for both games. Improvements to the engine was automatically made in both games, e.g. the new “Share Score” feature, and floating Help [?] squares.
Some new improvements are going only into the sequel: new graphics, weather effects, improved level design, better controls to get you around, and better enemies (flying zombie ninja cats with jetpacks!).
As for the tools I developed, I was pleasantly surprised with the rapid adoption of the Analyzer tool. I was also very pleased to see such positive reception for the upcoming Basic Starter Kit. I can’t say that I had greater satisfaction with one versus the other, since the tools wouldn’t exist without the games. In fact, I am already planning additional tools to help with better peer reviews, and easier promotion of XNA games.
This is only the beginning and there will be something for everyone!
Brandon: I’m consistently amazed by the support structure within the various indie communities that we cover, particularly with indie game developers. It’s really great to see people helping each other out using the mistakes and lessons already learned. Do you have a plan for when the Basic Starter Kit will be available for the public?
Shahed: I was planning on releasing the initial version of the Basic Starter Kit in February, so it will probably be around the last weekend of this month.
It’s a bit challenging to bring together a mix of independently-developed modules and present them as one coherent solution. So I expect to make ongoing changes based on developer feedback.
Brandon: Earlier you mentioned you were working on a sequel to Angry Zombie Ninja Cats called Ninja Cats X. What else can you tell us about your future projects?
Shahed: Besides Ninja Cats X, I started work on an action sidescroller called Action Ethan. This is the story of an unemployed stuntman, who takes to the streets to fight criminals and make a name for himself.
Next up is a fighting game, like Street Fighter, but with weapons. Not just classic weapons like Soul Calibur, but more weapons with ammo. Maybe a little like Power Stone with multiplayer.
These games will be built on the Basic Starter Kit, which will help me to continue enhancing it. They will also feature my own drawings, which will help me improve my art, and allow me to recruit aspiring game artists.
Brandon: Well we here at The Indie Mine wish you the best of luck in not only your new game development, but also with your support tools for other indie developers out there. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Shahed: Thanks for the support and encouragement! I’m happy to be there for the XNA Community, whose members have already helped me so much!
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