XBLIG Uprising Developer Interview: Autotivity Entertainment – developer of Entropy

As part of our ongoing coverage of the Indie Game Uprising III we asked Autotivity Entertainment to tell us a bit about themselves and their upcoming game, Entropy (read our PREVIEW of the game HERE).  Autotivity Entertainment was kind enough to take the time to tell us about  their studio’s game and their career as a developer.  The full interview can be found in its entirety below.  Enjoy, and of course a big thanks to Autotivity Entertainment 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?

Very short – personally I’ve been involved with multiple smaller hobbyist game projects on PC that never hit the light of the public. I’m new to writing software for XNA/XBLIG – this is not true for my co-programmer, Jonas Grunert, who has had some previous XNA experience but none on the 360 either.

I’m not totally new to writing software, though. I do contribute to some Open Source projects.

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

Entropy is a 3D puzzle platformer in which you combine the effects of playing with gravity, temperature, weight and electricity and last but not least time to solve tricky mazes while exploring a mystic world.

What makes the game special is its highly interactive, physics-enabled 3D environment.

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

Portal. Entropy is not like Portal, but the Portal experience most closely matches what we were striving for in our initial game designs. If you enjoyed Portal, you might also enjoy Entropy.

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?

We spent about a year since the initial designs of the game to the full release version, about 6 months of which were “real” development time. Our team consists of multiple people with day jobs and university to work around so what we did was basically part-time work with 3 people plus some freelance help, shifting around our work hours to accommodate people’s needs. All unpaid of course.

We had a first draft of the game design ready in November 2011. A first gameplay prototype with a full set of levels was up in May 2012. We finished up a first alpha for dream.build.play, but looking back it was not very polished and smooth and didn’t deserve to win anything (it also didn’t win anything).

The majority of the coding work was done at this stage, though, and during the summer some of us also had to focus on other duties. This time was thus used to collaborate with various artists to polish the game’s look. We iterated over our levels many times (both for gameplay and visual aspects), and we did several (3) rounds of beta tests, which we conducted on PC with ~20-80 people each.

Entropy really puts the Xbox 360 to its resource limits (albeit somewhat imposed by XNA, native games have more freedom) – to achieve a smooth gameplay experience,  the coding team spent the last weeks almost exclusively on low-level optimization.

During the past two months we also fired off the whole marketing machinery, produced trailers, website etc. We outsourced this, though, so the core team could focus on the actual product.

What software and tools did you use?

Our software toolchain is C# with XNA and Jitter as physics engine. We use Mercurial for version control.

We have some in-house developed tools for quality control and profiling.

We also make heavy use of Open Source software, such as GIMP for 2D work and Blender for 3D modeling. Through our artists we also have Cinema 4D and Autodesk products in our pipeline.

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?

Entropy will also be released on PC. We don’t know yet which distribution type we’ll choose (or rather which will be open to us, it is presumably easy to imagine which one we’re aiming for).

We decided to also develop for XBLIG because Indie games are fun and we felt the marketplace needed some fresh stuff apart from Avatar and Minecraft mashups. From a more technical point of view it promised to be quite a challenge to use this old piece of hardware (via an interface as unsuited as .NET) to deliver the visual quality and the gameplay features we were aiming for, without having the immense resources the big studios have.

Dream.build.play was a motivational kick as well.

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?

We only play music in a few select spots, for which an external hobbyist music producer composed some nice lines.

However, there are many, many sound effects in Entropy (I think about 80 different sounds in the game) – these are based on royalty free sounds as well as stuff we recorded on our own.

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

Have even shorter iterations cycles. Release more test builds to more people and find better ways to collect their feedback.

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?

We did a lengthy brainstorming session on the title – took us a whole evening and, I must confess, two or three bottles of wine. One title we decided against (and I can still remember) was “Projected”. Entropy was a good choice.

(It was the first time I’ve seen pen and paper brainstorming work.)

There are various interpretations that relate the physical term “Entropy” to the game play but none of them is really logically conclusive. At the end of the day, “Entropy” is just a very short, very concise title for a game with lots of hot lava and some cake in it.

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

Stop dreaming of making games, make them now. Very important thing is to use the right tools for the right job so keep your eyes open.

UDK and Unity are toolchains to look at – both require little programming to get started, but allow heavy scripting for anyone who does know programming, making them great environments to grow your skills with).

I really can’t recommend XNA unless you really want to develop for XBLIG. Not because it would be bad (it isn’t, it does a very good job and the learning curve for total programming newcomers is presumably very good) but because Microsoft seems to have given up on it.

Obviously, you will get to a point where programming is crucial. Big games are first and foremost software projects but of course that is not everything. If you form a team to make a game, you will need strong software developers in there as well as talented artists and very good game designers. In my limited experience, most if not all people suck at at least one of these categories, so pairing up with other people is probably a good idea 🙂

Very frequently, though, forums on game development are flooded by wannabe-devs looking for programmers, artists and game designers who would bring their “game idea” to life. Don’t ever do this. Ideas are worth nothing unless you prove you can work towards making them true, so make sure you get the skills needed to make games rather than look for people do the work for you. This may sound harsh but it will save you some nasty experiences. Making games is hard work – fun work, but hard work.

If Entropy sells well, I’ll probably tell you it is also a rewarding work the next time I’m interviewed. Otherwise I’ll just be pouring tears over you.

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?

More exposure in the Xbox dashboard. May I suggest replacing all the dashboard stuff that nobody cares about with stuff that people do care about when they buy a game console – for example video games.

Right now the front end of the XBLIG market in the dashboard gives you a list of the top five titles of which approximately six are Minecraft clones. There is a reason newspaper editors hand-pick the stories they want to see on page one.

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

Bonus levels with high difficulty. In-game achievements. A PC release. That’s what we’d love to have. We also might add some extra game elements to make the game even more diverse.

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

City Tuesday appeals most to me. Opinions on this are very diverse, though – other team members prefer Diehard Dungeon and Sententia.

Anything else you would like to say?

Don’t forget to check out Entropy’s release trailer!

We would like to thank Autotivity Entertainment 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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