We continue our Xbox Live Developer Interview series by speaking with James Silva of Ska Studios. James and his partner/fiancée Michelle Juett are currently finishing up the Windows Phone-exclusive collection Z0MB1ES (on teh phone). Join us as we hit them up for details on that game as well as their Xbox 360 brawler, Charlie Murder.
Head past the break for the full interview and exclusive Z0MB1ES (on teh phone) screenshots.
Does Ska Studios actually consist of multiple studios or just one?
One studio, two people. We’ve also recently formed a Charlie Murder subgroup called Team Renegade Radio. The subgroup contains the same two people, but is still mathematically legit as a subset (but not a strict subset, thanks, Wikipedia).
Studio, studios, whatever. Ska Studios is named after a musical genre. Has music been a major influence in your lives?
More or less. I was really into ska and punk rock in high school; I’d idolize groups like The Toasters and The Specials and had a band that almost played with Catch-22. Ska Studios is as much a nod to downright stupid levels of teenage enthusiasm as it is about the fast, messy, brawly feel of a live Streetlight Manifesto show.
That being said, we… unfortunately [missed a recent] Reel Big Fish show, but we’re pretty stoked about [getting to see] Journey (not a ska band) [in concert shortly thereafter].
You’ve published two Xbox Live Arcade games on the Xbox 360 so far: The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai and The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. How did The Dishwasher get picked up as an XBLA game?
The Dishwasher won the first Dream Build Play in 2007; I flew out for Gamefest and flew back with an XBLA contract.
Your next XBLA title, Charlie Murder, was originally announced as an Xbox Live Indie Game. How will the game change now that it’s an official Xbox Live offering?
Original indie version title screen
The XBLIG Charlie Murder was basically a never-out-of-character homage to 90’s coin-op beat-em-ups like The Punisher and X-Men, complete with ‘Insert Coin’ mechanic and ‘Winners Don’t Use Drugs’ splash screen; it was a dumb beat-em-up totally worth the dollar I was planning on selling it for.
The XBLA Charlie Murder is getting a bunch of overhauls and a lot more game. The new art really pops: the game looks completely amazing next to the build we demoed at PAX East two years ago. We’ve RPG’d it up with stats building, loot drops, tattoo upgrades, and stuff like that. The loot and tattoo system lends itself to some pretty cool customizability: you end up feeling like you’re taking your Rock Band band on a raid.
The beat-em-up genre is one of my favorites. Did any past games influence Charlie Murder’s development?
Charlie Murder WIP screenshot
My let’s-make-games experience that almost sort of worked was in 2001 with Zombie Smashers X, a side-scrolling beat-em-up where a group of punk rockers took on a bunch of zombies, vampires and cultists. It was a total homage to River City Ransom, an amazing Nintendo game that combined street brawling, quirky mechanics, and RPG-like progression. I’d like to call it the first BrawlPG.
Anyway, at some point I realized that Charlie Murder, as part of its XBLA-ification, has become to me something of a spiritual successor to Zombie Smashers X. It’s basically the culmination of an obsession that started two decades ago. - James
Fun Charlie Murder Fact: the whole band uses Windows Phones. - Michelle
Rad! Speaking of Windows Phone, let’s talk about Z0MB1ES (on teh phone). How far along in development is it?
I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1
Everything’s implemented and in place, there are just bugs to fix and technical things that need to be ironed out, and it couldn’t hurt to tweak performance a tad.
Did you pitch the phone game to Microsoft or did they approach you?
That part’s kind of a blur.
Z0MB1ES (on teh phone) contains three separate games: I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, ENDL3SS Z0MB1ES, and Time Viking. How does ENDL3SS Z0MB1ES differ from I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1?
Endless Zombies takes place in a little, infinitely looping labyrinth that has a room-by-room progression similar to that of Smash TV. It’s a neat challenge mode for some twin-stick time killing, but it’s definitely not nearly as epic as I MAED A GAM3.
Gotcha. Time Viking, on the other hand, is a brand new game. How does it fit in with the two Z0MB1ES titles?
It’s sort of the followup to I MAED A GAM3 that I’ve been wanting to make for a while. It’s got the same epic rock ballad progression as Z0MB1ES but a little (not too much) more polish. The economic logic of Z0MB1ES on teh ph0ne is amazing: Z0MB1ES on XBLIG was $1, therefore a $3 game on the phone must have three times as much stuff in it or else everyone will hate me. (If only publishers felt this way about iPhone ports. –ed.)
What is Time Viking's premise? Does the game have an ending?
Time Viking is a twin-stick side-scroller where you control a time-travelling Viking who uses his telekinetic power to explode an endless barrage of robot ninjas whose exploded scrap in turn helps the Viking build a tower to the moon. It has an ending!
I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 is famous for its lyrical theme song. Will Time Viking get the same treatment?
Time Viking’s got a song. I rap in part of it!
Getting back to Z0MB1ES, what is the mysterious Mega Games Creator 2000 feature?
Mega Games Creator is a 100% overstated feature that lets you swap in photos from your phone over zombies in I MAED A GAM3.
The Dishwasher console games are fairly challenging overall. How would you compare the difficulty of the titles in Z0MB1ES (on teh phone)?
They’re still on the challenging side. There’s also a challenge inherit to the phone controls; there’s only so much you can do without a proper gamepad, and it took me awhile before I was able to beat Z0MB1ES again. Still, it’s all just twin-stick shooters. Point your left thumb away from enemies and your right thumb toward them.
What can you tell us about Z0MB1ES (on teh phone)’s Xbox Live Achievements?
The game has 20 achievements for 200 GamerScore, but I don’t think any of them are all that mind-blowing. The toughest ones are for beating I MAED A GAM3 and Time Viking without losing any lives.
The console version of Z0MB1ES supports four-player cooperative play, which obviously isn’t possible in Windows Phone games at the moment. Might you add some on-the-go multiplayer following the Windows Phone Mango update?
No plans currently, though I’d love to play around with multiplayer when Windows Phones start supporting it.
How would you compare the development of games for Windows Phone and Xbox 360?
You do have to be a lot more mindful of performance and control on Windows Phone.
Lastly, does Ska Studios have any future plans for Windows Phone?
I’d really like to make a Charlie Murder tie-in game before launch!
A humorous image by Ska Studios, who are actually big Windows Phone fans
Thanks for reading! WPCentral will let you know as soon as Z0MB1ES (on teh phone) gets a release date.