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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Elfsquad7


Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, we feature a super-special (and sparkly) Christmas title from Scott Tykoski and Stardock, titled Elfsquad7.

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

Elfsquad7 is a frantic, fun, 1-4-player holiday game about wrapping toys, grabbing gifts and saving Christmas. Despite its overly saccharine holiday theme, it's designed so that even the most hardcore gamer can enjoy playing it, and it's available now on XBLIG.

What's the coolest aspect of Elfsquad7?

I really like that the end boss resembles Lavos from Chrono Trigger. Only his name is Kevin.

I'm also really happy with how the item shop plays into gameplay, especially on the harder-difficulty levels. There are some real strategic choices that the player has to make, and the game design is considerably stronger for it.

Oh, and items are delivered by a fat pink cat strapped to a hot-air balloon. I can proudly boast that is a first in the world of gaming.

What inspired you to make Elfsquad7?

I remember several Christmases back in the mid 90s where every family party would result in me and 10 cousins playing Super Bomberman, Mario Kart, Secret of Mana, Uniracers, and any other multiplayer game we could get our hands on. It was so much fun, and Elfsquad7 is a throwback game infused with this multiplayer spirit -- simple to pick up and fun for all.

How does developing a holiday game compare to a more year-round title?

You're under a bit more pressure, actually. Every holiday that ticks by is a reminder that your deadline is drawing ever closer. Then, when you end up in crunch-mode, you're constantly asking yourself, "Why didn't I put this energy into something that people can enjoy year-round?"

There's also the marketing problem of selling this sweet, cute, holiday game to a demographic that tends to despise sweet, cute, holiday things. It's a real balancing act, but one I've greatly enjoyed.

Anything you'd do differently?

Start earlier, probably. As an indie with a hard deadline, I was forced to cut a lot of the features I loved: VS arena, leaderboards, trophies, more items, more unlockables, lots of retro cutscenes to tell the story.

This is where I luck out, however. In 10 months Christmas games will be relevant again, so I have 314 days to make a rockin' Elfsquad7 2012 update! Huge value-add for a $1 purchase.

Do you see Elfsquad7 morphing into other holiday or generic titles?

I don't know if Elfington, Cheesums, and the crew belong in a non-holiday title, but I would love to continue their adventures across many Christmases and gaming platforms, if the opportunity arises.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

Games with a one-to-two-month sales window are a difficult sell, so the flexibility of an indie is vital to see these niche titles get made. Once a company is too large, creativity has to take a back seat to market viability, so I don't think it's a stretch to say the indie community is where you're going to see much of the innovation going forward.

Creativity is a cause that gets my full support.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

I certainly haven't earned my stripes yet but, yes, I'd like to think my efforts will eventually contribute something to the community. Elfsquad7 was never meant to be anything more than a fun little Christmas game, but I have a few designs that should feel more epic.

For now I'm simply enjoying the fantastic company of the indie community.

Sell Elfsquad7 in one sentence:

Fight Lavos with your grandma and save Christmas in Elfsquad7!

What's next?

After the holidays are behind us, I'll start cleaning up all the sloppy code that gets written when you have a hard deadline. Then I'll be updating the game throughout 2012 for a nice, beefy update when next Christmas rolls around.

Plus, I hope to get one non-Christmas game out the door. Something fun, unique and that sells in months other than December.

Unfortunately, though, I haven't been able to think too far ahead. Elfsquad7 has actually been getting some pretty substantial media attention, so I'll be on podcasts and interviews over the next few weeks. On top of that, we're running a contest over at our facebook page where you can win original concept art from the game! Very exciting stuff going on for our little Christmas game.

Elfsquad7 is just 80 Microsoft Points for a Christmastime full of fun, and as Scott said, it will keep fresh until next Christmas, and the one after that, and for many more after that. Unless it has dairy in it. Then we wouldn't trust it.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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