Chances are if you’re a casual gamer like me and have thought about leveraging your existing .NET skills to build games, then you’ve probably heard about XNA. XNA is a platform for building games in managed code on Windows, Zune, Xbox 360, and Windows Phone 7. If you’re a student, small game studio, or hobbyist, XNA provides a wonderful set of technologies and services that makes building games a fun and intuitive process.
Ranyl Bantog is a student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and an independent game developer who recently published a XNA-based title through Xbox LIVE Indie Games. His company, Good Guy Robots describes itself as “an independent games studio that specializes in high quality 2D games that bring the ‘Saturday Morning Cartoon’ experience to gamers”. Recently, I had the opportunity ask Ranyl for his thoughts and opinions on XNA and Windows Phone 7. Here are his answers to my questions:
What motivated you to study video game development at BCIT?
BCIT was an easy choice as they would take 100% of my credits from the diploma program I took several years ago towards my degree. Instead of doing four years of undergrad at different university, I would get my bachelor's degree in two years. The Games Development Option was a brand new full-time program and I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something new with my career.
When were you exposed to XNA?
I was first exposed to XNA earlier this year while taking a XNA programming course at BCIT. I already had several years of experience building enterprise applications using .NET so I was able to pick up and be productive right away. Within just four weeks of learning XNA, myself and four other classmates were proficient enough to be able to use the platform to build a game from the ground up in 48 hours for the Global Game Jam.
What were your first impressions with XNA?
I was already comfortable with .NET so working with XNA was a smooth transition. I loved how the platform allowed you to focus more on designing the gameplay rather than designing the various low-level libraries needed to support a game. Building great games is about 20% coding and 80% design. That stated, inspiration and a solid framework like XNA helps a great deal as well.
Why did you choose XNA versus other game development platforms?
To be honest, I haven't worked with any other game development platforms besides home-grown C++ frameworks built from the ground up. It's not a really good comparison because for any C++-based framework, you need to gather, integrate and build the components you need to support the design you have planned for your game. On the contrary, with XNA you can start focusing on the game right away. Another benefit of XNA is that there is a great set of starter projects from which you can build and learn, so you never have to do anything right from scratch.
What do you like most about XNA?
I like being able to deploy and debug on the Xbox through XNA Studio Connect. Building a game to for the web or Windows is one thing, but having your game run on a physical console like the Xbox - for example, adding breakpoints and collecting performance benchmarks - feels almost like a privilege. Also, I like how cross-platform network communication is handled in XNA, which makes debugging networking issues totally seamless.
What titles have you published and/or plan to publish?
The first title I published through Good Guy Robots (GGR) is a spatial logic puzzle called Codex. The game is focused on testing the gamer's core problem-solving skills and provides an intellectual challenge that exercises your brain rather than your thumbs. The levels progress in size and complexity as you move through all 30 levels of six stages. Since you could easily spend hours playing the game in a single session, one of the cool features of the game is the ability to play your own tracks that hook into the music visualizations of the gears. Leaderboards allow you to see the most recent attempts at trying to solve the puzzles and how each person did at each level.
The next game in the pipeline is Run Jump Slash, a fun and comical forced-scrolling 2-D game targeted for kids aged 8-14 years. The game features two ninja school students named Jikko and Kana who run, jump and slash through a bamboo forest to save their Sensei who just got kidnapped by a warthog army. Tyler Schroeder (Co-Founder, GGR) did an amazing job with the visual design and animations. We believe that this title will draw a lot of interest from kids. The project development is currently in collaboration with few other classmates from the program: Jim Slemin, Alex Fontaine and Brian Hume.
As a longer-term collaborative project, GGR is currently building educational games with a research group from the University of British Columbia (UBC) which specializes in pedagogical studies. We are super-excited about building games that appeal to young kids while providing concrete educational value that appeals to parents.
Any initial thoughts on XNA game development for Windows Phone 7?
Mobile game markets represent a tremendous opportunity for indie game developers. The average mobile game is small enough in scope for a team of two talented individuals to provide enough game play to satisfy the expectations of the mobile gamers. People will want to play games on their phones and Windows Phone 7 is no exception. Microsoft is one of the only few companies in the world who can come from behind and gain significant market share from a dominant competitor and it looks like Windows Phone 7 has that potential.
Any plans to focus on XNA game development for Windows Phone 7?
Absolutely. All the games we've developed (or developing) were designed to be played on a mobile phone. For a company like Good Guy Robots, building a game for Windows Phone 7 makes sense because it allows our games to get more visibility in this new market.
What are your career goals/plans once you graduate from BCIT?
I'll be graduating in April 2011 but at this moment I'm completely focused on doing well academically so that I can continue on to get my master’s degree. Somehow, this games business just landed on my lap and all of a sudden my kids took real interest into something I was doing, which is great. With the educational games, I hope that I can give something back, not only to my own children but other children as well.