We had a chance to ask Stephen a few question about himself and his Xbox Live Community Game (XBLCG) Poker Squares.
First off how did you get into making games?
At school I also wanted to be an Architect and, here in the UK, I selected my A levels accordingly. However, at the same time I got my first computer, a dazzling Commodore Vic 20 with a whole 5K of RAM, and I was hooked. Luckily my A levels were fine for Computer Science, which I did at the University of Warwick. My next computer was the Atari ST (used by Mike Oldfield for sequencing on many of his early records!), and I wrote a few simple free games on that. But mainly my game writing was just for personal fun. With a full time job, travelling around the world, and a family and church life, I was left little time for this hobby.
Do you play games and what was the last game you played?
On the Xbox, my favourite game is Catan. I like the balance of the game. For most games it likely that 2 or 3 of the players can still win up to the last move. It also translates well to the Xbox from the board game, which I play with family and friends.
The last game I played was a play test of a new Xbox Live Community Game from sgngames.com, called “Slottso Party”. If you see me playing Texas Hold ‘em then that it is really my wife – she nicks my account to play her favourite game. (She is up to $1M on-line – not bad.)
Why did you choose XBLCG to release your game on?
I use Microsoft technologies at work, and so I was very interested when I read about their release of Game Studio. I know C# and .NET and I’d bought an Xbox 360 a few years ago so I knew what was possible. I gave it a try and quickly realised I could actually develop and release a game that millions a people around the world could, potentially, play. The attraction was irresistible.
Can you give us a brief description of what the game is about? Obviously it is a Poker game but it has a twist.
Sure. Poker Squares is a card game we have played as a family for a long time now. It was original a patience but works best as a competitive game, and I realised it would translate well to the Xbox.The game consists of placing 25 cards, dealt randomly, in a 5 by 5 grid. This gives 10 poker hands – 5 going across in the rows, and 5 coming down in the columns. The better the poker hands, the bigger the score. Of course, deciding where to place a card is tricky as one card participates in two hands (one across and one down). It is a game of chance, probabilities and balance. There is always the chance the next card will help towards a big scoring poker hand, but the probability is that it won’t, and you have to balance this against the score that your opponent is getting.
Each player gets dealt the same cards in the same order. So if you get a bigger score than your opponent, then you really have done better and can rightly boast about your superior skills at the game. But overstretch yourself and, unless you are really lucky, everything can go wrong.
Poker Squares has been well received by the community, it was on the top selling list for a while, how does that feel?
I feel quite proud that something I have worked on was well received. I’m not in this for the money, nor particularly for the recognition. It is really just a hobby in my spare time. But even so, it is great to get positive posts to an official Xbox Live forum. Fancy having an Xbox Live forum dedicated just to a game that you wrote?!
Do you have any plans for Poker Squares in the future?
Yes, as we speak I am taking Poker Squares apart and re-structuring it ready for a networked version, allowing any number up to 31 players to play together via Xbox Live. Part of the restructuring allows four players to be shown on the screen at the same time (the current game only allows two players). A consequence of this is that a four player local game will also then be possible.
It is likely I will release a four player local game first, to make sure that code is solid, while I work on the networked version. I will let people know if an update is available, as I don’t think someone who has bought a community game gets an automatic upgrade.
Are you working on any other Xbox projects? And can you share any details with us yet?
Funny you should ask that. I have another game in play test, which I hope will make it to release in the next couple of weeks. This time the game is for young children. It is called “Find Teddy”. A number of different teddies are shown on the screen (between 4 and 16, depending on the difficulty setting). Along side the teddies are a number of clues. Only one of the teddies will have all of the “attributes” shown in the clues. For example, one clue might show that the teddy is wearing a tie, and another clue might show it is holding a balloon.
It is a simple game of logic, which can help a young child learn how to tackle problems in a structured way, in a fun way of course. If the child finds the correct teddy at the first go, then an item is unlocked which they can then use to build their own teddy.
I’ve very pleased with the comments I have received from peer developers to date. Look out for “Find Teddy” on the Community Game section. It will be under the Family game genre.
Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to make an XBLCG?
Yes, go for it. It is immense fun.
My main tips are:
- Take the advice from the experts on the community forums. Spend time (a lot of time) reading what they have to say.
- Don’t rush your game out there. Make sure you put it through play test.
- Take on-board any criticisms that come your way.
Do you think that developers can make money out of Xbox Live Community Games?
I’m sure they will get some money for their Community Games – but it still remains to be seen if anyone can “make money” on them. At the present I imagine it is very unlikely that compared to the time and effort required to design, develop and debug games and be part of the community (the latter takes considerable time) that the money received will equate to a decent living. I hope to be proven wrong. The whole community is waiting with baited breath to see the first sales figures that Microsoft release.
Has it been worth the effort making Poker Squares?
As a hobbyist – Definitely. It is a joy to program in the environment. I’ve have programmed many computer systems in my time, from Mainframes down to simple mobile device, and Visual Studio with Game Studio is up there with the best. I’d like to thank Microsoft (and I never thought I’d say this, coming from the Java world that I do J ) for supporting Community Games. I hope their policy of support continues.
Thanks for answering some questions for our readers, good luck with your games and keep us updated with what you are doing.
See the user reviews here;
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