XBLIG Uprising Developer Interview: Smudged Cat Games – developer of Gateways

Continuing our coverage of the Xbox Live Indie Games Uprising III, Smudged Cat Games, developer of Gateways (read our preview) and third place winner of the 2012 Dream.Build.Play competition took some time to answer our questions to that you can know a bit more about them and their games.  The full interview can be found below:

First, tell the readers a bit about yourself: what is your history as a game developer, previous efforts, why you decided to start getting involved in making games?

I’m 33 now and I started messing around with coding and little games as soon as I could reach a keyboard.  I had a game for the BBC Micro published in a listings magazine when I was 11 so I really did start early.

I got serious with developing games when I got a Net Yaroze during my time at university.  I wrote a game called Timeslip which appeared on the cover disk of an Official Playstation Magazine.  It was very cool to have a bunch of PSOne disks with my game on them and made a real impact when I went for job interviews after graduating in 2000.

My first job was working at Rare but I hated it.  I got stuck doing tools development rather than games and had to work really long hours.  After that I decided I didn’t want to work in the games industry and went between a few different non-games jobs.

My interest in games development was rekindled again when Microsoft announced XNA and I decided I’d try writing my own game again.  I wrote The Adventures of Shuggy which ultimately made it to XBLA last year and worked on a few more indie games while I was doing that such as A Bomb’s Way, The Tower: A Bomb’s Climb and Growing Pains.  I even ported the Net Yaroze game I made, Timeslip, to the platform as well.

How would you describe your game in a sentence? What do you feel makes your game special or unique?

Dude… you can use portals to travel in time!

If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?

Gears of War!  Seriously though, Portal is clearly a big inspiration for the game.  I really want people to see that it goes a few steps beyond Portal though by adding the different gateways types that let you change size, walk on walls and travel in time.

How long did you spend in development? Could you walk me through the timeline for the game, all the way from the conception of the idea to the final marketing of the game a few months ago? What software and tools did you use?

I first started the game at the end of 2009 but I was really just prototyping it then.  I had already been using XNA and really liked the framework so I decided to use it for developing Gateways as well.  I had a very basic map with just a few blocks around and worked on getting the gateway mechanics functional first.  Once they were implemented and I could jump around and use them I could see the potential for different puzzles and decided to make a full blown game using the concept.

I decided what puzzles I wanted in the game and plotted out the map from there.  I actually had an early version of the map completed back in March of 2010 which has developed over the years but the basic layout hasn’t changed since then.  There was a bit of a break where I had to work on Shuggy and then I returned to the game later in 2010.  At that point I added tutorial dialogs, the map screen, the multi gun and a lighting system which led to the addition of the torch which Ed can use to light up the way.

There were plenty more breaks in development when I either worked on Shuggy or did other contract work to pay the bills but I’ve been working solidly on the game since the beginning of this year to get it polished and into state where I feel it’s ready to release.  I was contacted by the guys organizing the indie uprising and thought it would be a great idea to try and help promote the game.  I also entered the game into this year’s Dream Build Play competition and I’m pleased to say it’s one of the top 20 finalists in the Xbox category.

What made you decide to develop for XBLIG?

Since the game is developed using XNA it makes sense to release it for XBLIG because it’s so easy.  The game is also available for PC.  It’s available to download from the Smudged Cat Games website now and will be appearing on Steam and Desura on the 13th of September.  I’d love to do Linux and Mac ports for the game but I’ll see how it goes on XBLIG and PC first.

A game’s soundtrack can make or break a game, tell us how you selected yours. Did you produce in house, team up with a music producer or simply purchase royalty free music?

I teamed up with Anthony Morgan who provided all the soundtracks for the game and did a brilliant job.  I’m really happy with the atmosphere that he managed to create for the game.  It really conveys the idea that game should played at a leisurely pace and isn’t about running around shooting stuff.

If there was one thing you could improve on, or simply do differently in development what would it be?

One thing I would change would be the shape of Ed, the main character.  It wouldn’t really improve on things from a player’s perspective but having a collision box which wasn’t completely square proved to be a real pain, particularly when it came to the rotation elements of the game.  Things would have been so much simpler if he just had a square collision box!

I’d have preferred to have a better development cycle as well.  As I explained, there were a lot of breaks in the development of the game, either to work on Shuggy or to earn some money.  It would be nice to just start work on a game and work on it solidly until the game was finished and released.  For my next project I’d like to make sure that’s the case!

How did you go about deciding on the name for your game and why did you end up with the title you have?  Were there any rejected titles that didn’t make the cut?

I just tried to think of a different name I could use for portals and decided that Gateways fitted the bill and sounded pretty good.  There weren’t really any other names that I considered, it’s been called Gateways from pretty early on in the project.

Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?

Lots of people start making games because they get excited about a particular idea.  Unfortunately not that many people actually finish one, either because the scope of the project was too great or they get sidetracked by another idea they have which seems much more appealing because it’s new.  It’s always easier to start a new project than to keep plugging away at an existing one and make sure it gets finished.  My advice would be to pick a game idea that’s relatively simple but has a unique element to it and make sure you see it through to completion and actually get it out there so you can see what people think of it.  Don’t try and make some MMORPG as your first game because you just won’t get anywhere near completing it.

The XBLIG market has had mixed results so far in its existence. What do you believe could make it better? What do you believe could improve the service as a whole, from designer to consumer?

I think a lot of indie developers feel a bit unloved by Microsoft.  The method of accessing indie games on the dashboard keeps getting shuffled around as though Microsoft aren’t quite sure what to do with them.  It would be nice to see some better methods for accessing different indie games.  At the moment you’ve got the top rated and top downloaded lists which don’t really change that much.  Even if we just had those options as weekly, monthly and all-time lists that would do a lot to let other games shine through.

It would be nice to see Microsoft select certain games each week which they felt were good games that have been overlooked and promoted them somewhere.  It would give people another area to look at to find interesting games.

What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?

I’m not starting any new projects at the moment.  Once Gateways is released I’m planning on working on some extra levels for Adventures of Shuggy.  I’ll probably spend a while providing a few updates to my other games before I embark on a new project.

What game in the Indie Uprising are you most excited to play (besides your own of course)?

Well I’ve tried all of the games while they’ve been in development but probably the one I’m most looking forward to actually sitting down and completing is Entropy.  Graphically it’s fantastic, a lot of time has clearly been spent on those effects.  The gameplay matches up as well, I only played a handful of levels but I could really see the potential there!

Anything else you would like to say?

Just remember to watch out for all the uprising games between the 10th and 20th of September.  It’s going to be a really cool time for Xbox LIVE Indie games!


We would like to thank Smudge Cat Games for taking the time to answer our questions!  For more information on the Uprising and to keep up to date on all of Clearance Bin Review’s coverage (which includes, game previews, developer profiles, interviews and of course reviews) head to our central page for the full list of all our coverage as well as coverage from around the web.


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