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Joystiq interview: Halfbrick Studios


We recently fired off some long-distance questions to Halfbrick Studios, an independent developer located in Brisbane, Australia, about itself and its projects in the pipeline for Xbox 360 -- more specifically, for XBLA and XNA Community Games. Lead artist Matthew Knight generously accepted our assault and blasted back with his answers.

Warning: Stepping into our friendly exchange just might hit you like a ton of (half) bricks ...

First of all, what is your role at Halfbrick?

My role? Are we downsizing? My role is vital! Vital!

Oh ... just for an interview you say ...

Well, I'm the current art lead on Raskulls, which means I control the direction of the visuals ... obviously. But, because we're a small team, I also get my hands dirty conceptualizing, animating, modeling and the like. I also help out with the creative vision of the game, as everyone on the team does to some extent. We don't have any "environmental texture artists" or "AI routine programmers" here. We're too small for that, thankfully. Damn, that monotony would drive me nuts. Oh, and I'm the designer of Halfbrick Blast Off, so like many of the people here, I basically just love making games.

Tell us a bit about Halfbrick. How much experience do you have in the industry? When were you formed?

Halfbrick was formed in 2001 by several young gentlemen looking to start their own company. We hit the ground running, managed to take off and now there's over 30 staff members working full-time on a bunch of different projects. We have staff ranging from industry veterans from all over the world, to local talent fresh from their studies.

You recently announced Halfbrick Fridays, a series of games designed specifically for XNA? Can you explain what that's about?

Well, if anyone has ever worked on a "Casual Friday" they will have some kind of understanding. We had the idea that we could work on a whole bunch of smaller, more casual games outside of our normal workload at the studio. The name was easy -- the games are casual, so Fridays seemed like a pretty fitting title for the series. When you jump on Xbox Live, you'll be able to see that it's a "Fridays" game by the logo in the bottom right corner of the box art. Our Fridays games will definitely be released on other platforms than Community Games, but for starters that's where our focus is.

Of course, we're hoping some of the games take off in a big way and attract plenty of attention, so that we have the chance to develop some of the ideas even further and distribute them to bigger audiences. Then we would have to change the name. I think "Halfbrick: 25 Years of Awesome" sounds pretty good!

With XNA developers reporting poor sell-through rates on demos and poor demo downloads altogether (though, it's not all bad), do you think developing for XNA is the smart move, from a business perspective? How do you plan on getting noticed in this field that doesn't seem to get much exposure?

We are taking on XNA in a big way. The usual XNA developer is just one guy, and a lot of the current crop of games are either ports of old games that were moved onto the service, or not games at all.

Most people assume all XNA games will be garbage.

We have four XNA games in active development. Actually, make that three, considering Halfbrick Blast Off has been released already. The second game, Halfbrick Echoes, is due to hit the service in the next couple of weeks. From there, we have two more games in a near-complete state, and we just had a pitch meeting where we began work on yet another round of games.

Honestly, the XNA platform is great. It's possible that most people assume all games released will be garbage, and the vast majority are lacking a certain polish to be sure. However, there are some genuinely superb games available, but unfortunately as the perception of XNA games as a whole isn't very positive, many developers have had to release their game at a fraction of its worth just to get some sales. No one expected all the games to be professional projects, as that is what Community Games is all about, but without some really killer software and, more importantly, a user ratings system to allow the better games more customer focus, the brand won't take off as quickly as most developers would like.

From a business perspective, we don't really have any trouble with developing for XNA because we make the games on a simpler schedule outside our normal studio work. We are actually in active development with two Nintendo DS games, one XBLA game and one PC port. We pour our heart and soul into these games, whether they are licensed or not, and make them as good as we possibly can. We also have other ideas on the side that eventually develop into Halfbrick Fridays projects.

Also, Halfbrick Fridays isn't just for XNA. We are also exploring iPhone development, and pretty much anything our games end up being suited for. We take the idea first, polish it to its highest potential, and then we decide where it would fit the best. We don't say, "Let's make a puzzle game for the DS." The game itself will show us the way to its preferred platform as development continues. Suffice to say, we work very hard!

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