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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Olu

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game blog has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with Red Button Games boss (and champion Omeganaut) Daniel Frandsen about his new Xbox Live Indie Game, Olu.

How did you get started?

I've always dabbled in game development, but it really started in a college game development course. After the course was done, a handful of us went on to create an organization for game development. The bug bit me, and I spent most of my time in my last two years of college working on games. Red Button Games came out of my spare time, and some spare money to hire a few freelancers.
Why did you want to make games?

It's always been the combination of two passions: gaming and design. I remember back when I got my first console (Super NES), I would draw Super Mario Kart tracks and Donkey Kong Country levels on a sheet of paper. It's what first brought me into a desire to learn programming, and it's something I really enjoy doing, even if it's technically work.

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?

To be honest, I would love the opportunity to give my skills to a larger team; but not many game companies are interested in someone with only academic game development experience. As I went through the development of Olu, I realized that if I was at larger game company I wouldn't have the flexibility or creative freedom that I have with a a smaller team. Even if it is just a hobby right now, it gives me the chance to make kinds of games that AAA studios aren't interested in making.

What's your game called, and what's it about?

The game is called Olu. Essentially it's a mash-up of Rez and Ikaruga, borrowing more heavily from Rez. Same type of environment and gameplay, but you have two weapons and two types of enemies. Your success in the game depends largely on using the oppposite weapon of the enemy; you gain points faster, and you gain powerups that way too. Just as in Rez, everything moves together to the beat of the music.
Do you feel like you're making the game you always wanted to play?

As someone who's played Rez over and over, yes. I always wanted more content like that in Rez. While I really enjoy the synchronization of gameplay and music in other games, somehow no other game has captured that same feel for me that Rez did.

How long did it take you to create?

The initial concept in XNA started in December 2007. All the programming, and most of the art and music was done by myself in my spare time. Looking back I really should have brought on some teammates sooner, because it did take over two years for me to finish.
What are you proudest of about your game?

During the review and approval process, one of the users said he "preferred Olu over Rez, it just plays better". I'm proud that I managed to capture the feeling of Rez. I'm sure that opinions will vary on the quality of the work, but hearing that said from just one person makes it worth it.

Did you consider using licensed music for the game?

The first track in the game was originally planned to be a licensed song. I started the process, which consisted of months of faxes, e-mails, and calls before I found the correct music publisher, and two recording labels for the song. After that, there was another month or two of negotiations with the companies, before I gave up (having only a week until my release goal). At this point I replaced the first track with another one that was already completed, and tweaked the level to work with the new song. So my advice to any indie dev even considering it: don't try to license a song. It's incredibly frustrating, and it's much easier to hire someone to make a track for you.
What one thing would you tell someone to convince them to get your game?

If you liked Rez, download the game from Xbox Live Indie Games. It adds gameplay that makes things a little more challenging, while still keeping the amazing feeling Rez brings. You won't be disappointed, and it's only $3!
What's next?

A team of myself and two other programmers are doing some early prototyping for ... well, something really interesting. We really like the concept, but we don't want to announce anything until we know we can make our idea a reality. As for myself, I'm hoping to catch up on my pile of games to play, and to do a large amount of play-testing and reviewing inside the XNA community. Our game wouldn't have been released without the help of the community.

Olu is available now on Xbox Live Indie Games. If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Can't get enough indie? Check out the Pitch archives.

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