Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Retro Affect

Who are you guys?
Dave: I’m David Carrigg, Software Neurosurgeon for Retro Affect. I handle all the programming and technical aspects of creating our games.
Kyle: Yo! I’m Kyle Pulver, Master Gentleman of Design. I’ve done a lot of different stuff for Retro Affect including level design, environment art, web development, and some game scripting.
kylework3 300x225 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Retro Affect
Kyle Pulver designing art for Snapshot.
Why did you choose the name ‘Retro Affect’?
D: When we were first creating the studio, a lot of different names were being thrown around. In the end, we wanted something that said we would be making modern games that have an old school feel to them.
K: Yeah, and then some people ask why its ‘Affect’ with an A and not ‘Effect’ and somewhere there’s a really long and detailed explanation about that, but for now I’ll just say it’s because the domain name was taken at the time.
How did the two of you get into game development?
D: My background is pretty much entirely in programming. I started coding while I was in high school, and decided to pursue it as a career. It didn’t really hit me that I could do professional video game development until I was a few years into getting my degree in Computer Science. I started working on random video game side projects for fun, some of them being with Kyle. After I graduated, I did gameplay programming for a couple different MMO studios before leaving to be one of the co-founders of Retro Affect.
K: I’ve been into game design for pretty much my entire life. Since the very first day I held a Nintendo controller in my hand I always wanted to be able to create my own games. As a kid I would often draw out entire games on paper and pretend to play through them. I actually got into game development when I was 11 or 12 years old and I had a copy of Klik & Play. Things kind of snowballed from there and now I’m actually making games for a living, crazy!
Is now a good time to be an independent developer?
D: It’s a really exciting time to be an indie developer. A lot of the channels that are available to us now never were in the past. It’s much easier to develop a game with a small team and a low budget and still make it available to a massive amount of people. Most of that is thanks to distributors like Steam, social networks, and easy to use technology.
As far as challenges go, with a bootstrapped studio like Retro Affect, finances would be on the top of the list. Aside from that, interacting with some of the larger companies in the industry can sometimes be a bit of a pain. They’re used to dealing with large studios with lots of employees, and sometimes that doesn’t align well when they try to deal with a small team like ours.
K: Dave pretty much said everything I was going to say. It’s awesome to be indie. That’s all I got.
Is there much of a developer community in your area? Do you interact much with other teams?
D: Here in New Hampshire? No. Fortunately, I’m not too far away from Boston, which has a great community. There’s a ton of fantastic developers in that area, both indie and not. There’s regular game developer meetings happening all the time, and it’s even home to PAX East. I definitely encourage anyone in the Boston area to reach out to some of the devs in the area if they’re interested in what indie game development is all about.
K: I’m actually located in Phoenix, AZ, and I work remotely with Dave right now. Phoenix actually has a small community of indie and hobby developers that all meet up every once and awhile. It’s nothing huge, but enough people to prevent one from going insane.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
D: At this very moment I’m working on fixing some bugs in a script that handles projectiles from one of the enemies in Snapshot. We’re very close to being done, and practically everything we’re doing now are bug fixes and very minor additions and tweaks.
K: At this very exact moment I am answering an interview question. After this I’m going to work my way down a list of bugs that are fixable by me so that the game can be that much closer to completion. We’re so damn close to being done with this game that it physically pains me.
What drove you to create Snapshot?
D: The idea originally came from one of the former members of Retro Affect, and a good friend of ours, Pete Jones. One night he dreamt he was being chased by a monster and when he took a photo of it with a disposable camera, the creature was captured inside it. The next day he talked with Kyle about developing a game based on the idea, and from there the core mechanics in Snapshot were born. Kyle and Pete then developed a prototype of the game, which Kyle could tell you more about. When the prototype was nominated for the Excellence in Design award at the Independent Games Festival, they asked me to come on board to create a full version of the game.
K: As far as the art goes, I can speak a little bit about the environment art in the game. I wanted to try and take some of my pixel art style and apply it to a high res game. I am trying to use the same rules and guidelines that I learned doing pixel art games and apply it to a game with high definition resolutions. I don’t know if it ended up working out in the end, but hopefully it resonates well with our players!
You developed a proprietary engine, Retro Affect Engine. What drove you to forge such an independent development path, instead of going with something like Unity?
D: When we first started, we didn’t know what platforms we’d want to launch the game on. We knew it was going to be PC as well as some consoles, but no idea which ones. I don’t think Unity supported any type of console development at the time, and most other engines were far too expensive or limited you to specific platforms (like XNA for Xbox 360, for instance).
There’s definitely been some downsides to rolling our own tech. I’d estimate that it’s added at least a year to the development schedule, and there are things the engine just doesn’t support that are standard in most other engines. However, it’s given us the freedom to choose the platforms we want. Had we made another choice there’s a really good chance that the game wouldn’t be launching for any of the Sony platforms. In the end, I think we made the right choice by developing our own tech, and I’d probably make the same decision if I had to do it again today.
K: Making our own engine was indeed a really tough decision, but like Dave said it boiled down to the fact that everything that was out there either had certain hard limitations that we couldn’t get around, or didn’t look like it would support the kinds of things that we wanted to do.
You just recently announced that Snapshot will be coming to Vita and PS3 via the PlayStation Network. How did the deal come around with Sony?
D: Sony contacted us back in 2009 when the game was in the IGF. They expressed interest in seeing the game on the PS3 back then.
K: Yeah it’s been a long conversation with Sony. I feel like Snapshot has gone down so many potential paths as far as distribution and platforms go that it was really crazy to actually officially announce that it was coming to the Playstation platforms. It’s rad to see all those months of talking back and forth finally come to fruition!
How is Jim Buck (Twitchy Thumbs Entertainment) contributing to development?
D: Jim Buck is helping us out with the programming for both the PS3 and PS Vita. Once we decided to launch on both systems, we wanted to bring in someone with familiarity to working on multiple platforms and who could really do a lot of the low-level programming work without breaking a sweat. Jim’s been a great asset so far, and his expertise is a big reason in why we’re able to bring Snapshot to both systems.
K: Aside from that, Jim is providing therapy sessions for the team members to make sure that we don’t all kill each other.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
D: I’m slowly trying to fill the walls of my office with more current game development memorabilia. I have signs from the IGF, huge pixel art of Mario and Zelda on the walls, as well as a big signs from when Snapshot was in the PAX 10 and Boston Indie Showcase.
K: Oh man I should totally have an awesome answer for this… ummm… I have a still shrink wrapped copy of A Link to the Past for SNES! I have a cool Japanese Pokémon Diamond & Pearl Special Edition Nintendo DS. A Super Famicom [the Japanese SNES, fact fans] cartridge of Chrono Trigger… and that’s all I can think of right now. Oh, also I have a Super Pretendo cartridge for Offspring Fling!
Thanks for your time, guys.
D: Thanks, we had a blast!
K: Yeah, thanks!
Snapshot will be released soon on PC and on PlayStation Network for Vita and PS3.

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