With the games industry facing the jaws of recession, it takes an admirable level of commitment and self belief to walk away from a job at a major studio to set up shop as an independent games maker, yet that's just what Nathan Fouts did when he left Resistance developer Insomniac to form one-man code shop Mommy's Best Games.
Whether it was a financially shrewd move is something we'll leave to Nathan and his bank manager, but from a gamer's perspective it was certainly fruitful. His debut game, Weapon of Choice, was released in November 2008 to a warm round of applause and a bulging bag of awards. One of the first titles to shine on what was then known as the Xbox Live Community Games channel, thanks to its dazzling colour palette, innovative gameplay ideas and no small amount of old-school brio, it set a high benchmark for the homebrew service that has yet to be topped.
Weapon of Choice will be joined in 2010 by two new stallions from the Mommy's Best stable. The upcoming Grapple Buggy is a vehicular bungee-based platform game sure to invoke lots of Bionic Car-mando puns, while Shoot 1UP, arriving this month, is a vertical bullet-hell shoot-'em-up with a neat twist - every extra life immediately joins in the action, until you're controlling a fleet of up to 30 ships.
With the indie scene still on the ascendant, Eurogamer caught up with Fouts to chat about the challenges of indie development, the nurturing of good ideas and breakfasts for the brain.
Eurogamer: Xbox Indie Games has come in for some criticism regarding its viability as a commercial platform for independent developers - you're working on two new games for the service, so I'm guessing you don't feel too hampered by its structure. What have you found are the pros and cons of the Indie Games channel?
Nathan Fouts: There's definitely a lot of positives to the Indie Games service. XNA makes it fairly easy to develop games that work on the PC and Xbox 360. Developers have basically complete design control over their games. Games can push the boundaries of what is a game, an application, or simply art, yet still get into console gamers' hands. All games, no matter how terrible, get a brief moment of attention by showing up in the New Arrivals list.
As for negative aspects, because it such an easy platform for which to develop, there are a lot of titles coming out. This can mean that though you do get some time in the New Arrivals list, it can sometimes be even less than a week before you're pushed off, into the abyss known as Browse All. But the upswing is, if you can make it into Top Downloads or Top Rated, you get a second life!
And of course, there's still some annoying issues, such as no Achievements (even low count maxes such as 50 gamerpoints) and no global leaderboards. You also can't control what day your game actually arrives on the service. It'd be nice to hold the game after it finished review and decide when to release it, so you could alert fans and maximise your initial sales, hopefully parlaying that into Top Downloads time.
But I have faith that the XNA team is looking into all these issues. They've done a great job so far, and the service is still only a year old. There have been a lot of improvements already.
Eurogamer: Do you think the lowered prices have made a difference?
Nathan Fouts: I think offering a lower price option with 80 Microsoft Points has made a big difference. Having games at one, three or five dollars has been good, but I would still like to have more flexibility, such as offering games at two or four dollars as well.