XBLIG Uprising Developer Interview: Michael Arts – developer of Sententia

As part of our ongoing coverage of the Indie Game Uprising III we asked Michael Hicks to tell us a bit about his game Sententia (read our PREVIEW of the game HERE).  Michael was kind enough to take the time to tell us about his game and his career as a developer (in addition to the audio interview Dave Voyles and Michael Hicks did for us earlier).  The full interview can be found in its entirety below.  Enjoy, and of course a big thanks to Michael for taking the time to answer our questions.

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?

Hi! My name is Michael Hicks. I made my debut in the indie scene last year with the Honor in Vengeance series for XBLIG. I started developing games back in grade school and was finally able to start publishing my stuff onto Xbox Live when I turned 18 last January. When I was a kid I loved playing around with the GameShark I had, and I also made paper prototypes of game ideas… those were kind of the starting points of my career I suppose!

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

Sententia attempts to tell a personal story through gameplay mechanics. I feel like I did an alright job with this, and that is what makes the game feel very special to me. I was able to express things through this game in a way that’s impossible through other mediums… that’s what makes it unique I think!

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

It’s tough to narrow it down to one, but Gravitation by Jason Rohrer was what really made rethink what I was doing with games. All of my life I’ve used music as a way to express important feelings and progress, but with my games I never thought of it in that way… I was sort of conditioned like most gamers are to think of games in a certain context. Playing Gravitation was the final push I needed to do something like this.

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?

The core development lasted three months; I spent the rest of the time tweaking and organizing things for the release. I started the game last March and the conception of the idea was a mixture of a few things. I’ve spent the last year analyzing game design, and I wanted to find a short project to use to hone in and improve my design skills; I also wanted to make something that explored the “death of imagination” as we get older. A goal I had was to make the game somewhat abstract; I wanted a lot of the story to happen inside the player’s mind – I tried to use the gameplay mechanics to help achieve this. Oh, and I used XNA to program everything!

Have you in the past, or do you currently have plans to work in any other platform?  What made you decide to develop for XBLIG?

My last game, Honor in Vengeance II, was released on the PC a few months after the Xbox release. It was one of the launch titles for IndieCity and also is on IndieVania. I like PC, but I am a huge console guy, so developing for XBLIG was a no brainer!

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 usually work on the music myself, but this time I brought in my friend Jonny Martyr to do the whole thing. I’ve never worked with another musician like this, so I found it to be an interesting experience! He really did a great job nailing the moods I was going for.

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

I hope to keep improving by pushing myself into areas that are somewhat unexplored…. I developed Sententia with no real reference point except the ideas and feelings I wanted to convey; this is probably the most legitimate thing I have ever made because of that. I hope I can always start a project with these basic ideas, and then build the gameplay and whatnot on top of that. I didn’t do this with my last two games, so I can see the difference it made!

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?

Since Latin is a dead language and the game is about the death of imagination, I wanted to find a Latin word to use. Sententia means feeling, thought, opinion, way of thinking etc. and those things sum up the game perfectly. It was the only name I ever considered.

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

The key is simply just loving to make games. I don’t agree that you have to be really good at math or any of the other technical things games require to make great stuff. Just follow your gut and you will get around your weak spots and learn how to play to your strengths. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so just go for 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 both developers and Microsoft could make some changes. (Michael wrote an entire guest lecture article that you should read)

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

Next year I’m going to start on a decent sized project. I have no idea how long it will take me, but I’m going to guess a good year. I might go silent for a bit, but I’ll be back with another game!

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

qrth-phyl is one of my favorite games of the year!

Anything else you would like to say?

Thanks for taking the time to interview me!


We would like to thank Michael once again for taking the time to answer our questions!  Stay up to date on all of our coverage of the Indie Game Uprising III by bookmarking the following page: CLICK HERE.  CBR will be providing previews, developer profiles, interviews and of course reviews for every game involved in the Uprising. And, as always, support indie developers!

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