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Interviews
 Written by Troy Matsumiya  on October 06, 2010

Interview: Going behind the scenes on what it takes to make your own game.



As gamers, we have all dreamed about how cool it would be to make our own game. But since the vast majority of us don't have the skills, resources, time or motivation to get our hands dirty and actually build a game from scratch, that's all it will ever be ? a dream.

On the surface, Ray Bracey is your typical video game geek. He's a computer engineering student at the University of South Carolina (what he calls ?the real USC?) and eagerly plays on Xbox Live whenever he can. But what separates him from the rest of us is that he has actually taken his dream and made it reality.

Blockey is Bracey's baby, a simple but fun hockey arcade game found in the Indie Games section of the Xbox Live Marketplace for only 80 points, or $1. And if it wasn't for one of those seemingly insignificant, off-the-cuff life decisions, it might never have happened.

?I blindly jumped into programming after high school; fortunately, I ended up liking it, and loving it? Bracey says.

It's that love of programming ? combined with his other love of hockey ? that ultimately ended up as a real game being sold on one of the world's largest online console platforms. Now that's a pretty darn impressive achievement for something done in your spare time.



Gaming Target recently spoke with Bracey to discuss the making of Blockey, and his experiences as an independent developer.

Gaming Target: Congratulations on publishing your very first game. I'm sure everyone is wondering: how long did it take you from start to finish, and what inspired you to tackle such a complex, time-consuming project on your own?

Bracey: It took a long time to get this game out. I first started messing around with XNA around summer 2009. Blockey had been thought up and coded for almost a year, but I never actually finished it until this summer. In fact, there was a lot of downtime due to school and work. When this summer came along, I decided to redo the whole game, and finished it in a month.



What inspired me the most was to experience how fun it is to create a game. It's definitely challenging, and I have a new-found respect for any game developer. Whenever I lost motivation, I was able to turn to the people constantly egging me on to finish. The rest of the team was responsible for making me get the game out.

Gaming Target: You did all of the design, planning and programming, yet give credit to several people for helping you create the game. How important was having that support throughout the whole process?

Bracey: Extremely important. If the game was just through my vision, it wouldn't have turned out as great. These people have similar interests to my own, so to have another person give his views was ideal. We had to weed out through some ... different ideas. The sombrero for hat tricks sadly did not make it into the final build. As a whole, we found a nice balance of fun and creativity.

Gaming Target: What influenced the overall look and design of the game? It certainly has a charming old-school art style that is a throwback to the 8-bit glory days.

Bracey: I wanted it to look old-school but without the obvious pixel by pixel style. Since no one on our team had any real art skill, I took a page from my geometry tutoring and used a more rectangular approach. I think any game can draw a fantastic image, but it takes real creativity to draw a game with a lot of limitations. Games like Kirby's Epic Yarn and Geometry Wars, they make art that connects directly to the gameplay. Now, in no way is my game a masterpiece, but I think the simplicity deserves its own special kind of charm.

Gaming Target: What would you say were the most challenging aspects of making your game? Did you have any teeth-grinding, ?Why the heck am I doing this?? moments?

Bracey: Only two parts of the whole process annoyed me. One, and most obvious to any programmer, is the debugging stage. It's fun to plan and create code, but fixing it isn't quite as thrilling. The other is the little things in the game that take a lot of time. The introduction to each game was a little mind-numbing, and getting the referee to move and act correctly took too many hours.

Gaming Target: Conversely, what would you say was the most rewarding?

Bracey: Just the reactions to people playing the game. My team playing the game, getting so into it. Seeing how my game compares to other games on the marketplace. In Canada, my game was the number five top downloaded game, ahead of "I Made a Game with Zombies." Comments, good or bad, were a great treat to see on gaming websites.



Blockey is just an awesome thing for me. It's such a simple, basic, borderline lame game to most. But it taught me a lot in terms of coding, video game design, algorithms, and math. LOTS and lots of math. The bridge between math and video game coding can be ... long.

Gaming Target: How does the final product compare with your expectations at the beginning of the project? Any surprises?

Bracey: It's almost exactly what I wanted. One of the biggest goals that I had to cut out was the online multiplayer. I just couldn't grasp that concept yet. Also fighting proved to be cumbersome, and I wasn't able to find a way to put it in the game. Hopefully with my next update, I'll be able to throw that into the game.

Gaming Target: How has your experience been with the XNA development community and Xbox Live Indie Games?

Bracey: Very up and down. I feel like the review process needs some sort of overhaul. Other XNA developers pass or fail your game. If you knew a bunch of developers, you could potentially pass underdeveloped games. However, since there is no direct team of game testers on XNA, this is the best solution. The message board is extremely kind and helpful, as long as you follow the guidelines.

What are your future plans? Creating more indie games, pursuing a career at an established development studio, or something completely different?

Bracey: I'll be creating more indie games, for sure. We've recently decided to make Blockey Dodgeball, title to be determined. Right now, I'm in my last year as a Computer Engineer at the University of South Carolina (Go Gamecocks!) so I'll be looking for any job in a related field. Video games would be amazing, but obviously there is such a high demand for those positions.

Gaming Target: Finally, what words of advice would you have for anyone thinking of becoming an indie developer?

Bracey: Design a game that relates to something you love, have a quality product instead a rushed product, keep the game as simple as possible, get perspectives from many people, and take a break if it gets too complicated. No way I could have understood everything going on in one day.

Gaming Target: Thank you for your time, and we look forward to Blockey Dodgeball!

For more information about Blockey, Walking Talking Grilling Bear Studios or to contact Ray Bracey directly, visit his website blockey.isgreat.org, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/BlockeyGames.



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