pvnd1.jpg[Our new series of ‘Road to the IGF’ interviews profiles the nine recently announced winners of the IGF Showcase at Austin GDC - with the local Southern U.S. indie developers to be showcased at the Texas game development show next month.]

In this instalment of 'Road To The Austin IGF', we talk to IGF Showcase winner, Blazing Lizard's Chris Stockman, about upcoming Xbox Live Arcade release Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball and his independent developer's projects.

The title “transforms the innocent childhood game of dodgeball into a vindictive, heart-thumping battle between outlandish groups of characters including ninjas, pirates, zombies and robots”, and equips players “with special moves and melee attacks”. Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball is the first game from Blazing Lizard, which formed in March 2007.

What is your background with video games?

Chris Stockman: I started making games at 14. I worked for a very large independent developer called Park Place Productions in Oceanside, CA. They were the very first developers of Madden Football for the Genesis.

I knew pretty much at that point I wanted to make games for a living. From there I worked at a ton of different companies ranging from huge mega-corps like EA and Nintendo, to small indies like Ritual Entertainment to publisher owned developers like Volition.

Needless to say, I've been around the block a few times!

When was Blazing Lizard formed?

CS: March of '07. My partners and I all left Volition at the same time and spent about four months creating a demo, and most of our engine. We shopped the demo around and it got picked up pretty quick by my friends at Gamecock.

What inspired Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball, and why did you decide to develop it?

CS: At first the idea was more of a joke. But as we thought about it more, we realized that there was a severe lack of dodgeball games. And pitting pirates against ninjas just seemed like the natural thing to do!

What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?

CS: I'm pretty happy with the end product. We set out to create a fun multiplayer party game for XBLA and I think we met those goals. The game is a ton of fun to play with a group of your friends either offline or online.

I think the singleplayer has a funny, lighthearted story that will make people chuckle.

What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?

CS: Each character in our four teams has their own unique special ability they can use during a match. Designing and balancing all of those special abilities was akin to [designing] a fighting game, and definitely was a daunting challenge.

How long did development take, and what was the process like?

CS: About a year total. Overall, I'd say development went smoothly. We really didn't have to alter the scope that much - in fact, we ended up adding features late in development! And despite a few speed bumps during Microsoft's certification, we got through without many problems.

What's the scene in Austin like?

CS: It seems there still is very much an MMO-based mentality around here although that is changing rapidly with new start-ups forming.

Is there a feeling of community?

CS: Hard to tell. There definitely is an active developer community but I haven't really had the time to interact with it.

What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?

CS: With the advent of XBLA and PSN, and to some extent WiiWare, you're seeing a cheaper avenue to travel down in order to start a game development studio and to release indie games.

It will be very interesting to see how Microsoft's Community Games Initiative will take shape and how that will affect indie development.

pvnd1.jpgHow has Gamecock been to work with?

CS: Oh Gamecock has been fantastic. When they say they are a hands-off publisher that lets the studio create the games - that’s not hyperbole or lip-service. Sure, they'll give critiques and what not but they've never mandated we do this or that.

I hope to continue working with them on future titles.

Has the process of getting the game onto XBLA been a difficult one?

CS: No, not really. We had to go through the MS gatekeepers when we first signed with Gamecock, and that took longer than I expected, and then certification at the end - but that's normal.

However, releasing on the platform has been kinda frustrating. We were fully certified and ready to launch on July 3rd but all their slots were full until September 3rd. I really wish they didn't have this hard rule of 2 titles per week - which ofttimes they don't follow either.

What kind of feedback have you received so far?

CS: PvND is a ton of fun playing with friends both offline and online. Not many people have played through our story campaigns, yet.

Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

CS: Braid and PixelJunk Eden were released recently and both are incredibly fun, indie games. I highly recommend them.

Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

CS: If you want to keep the indie movement alive and prosperous, you really need to show your support by purchasing stuff on PSN and XBLA.