GameSetWatch sister site, which covers console digital download titles, recently conducted interviews with a handful of the industry's most eclectic independent studios, including Twisted Pixel, Radiangames, Ska Studios, and Zen Studios.

These developers have found success in independent development in a variety of ways, from trying new and unusual approaches to classic genres, to blazing trails on emerging platforms.

As part of a series of interviews with developers from across the gaming landscape, GamerBytes spoke with these independent studios about their best and worst experiences while developing their most recent titles, and what lessons the teams will bring into 2011.

The following are excerpts from the interviews with the three independent studios, where the teams discuss their respective projects and their future plans.

Twisted Pixel

Best known for creating quirky titles like 'Splosion Man and Comic Jumper, Twisted Pixel has built a reputation for releasing unusual and quality titles with a distinct, self-aware sense of humor. In this interview, Twisted Pixel's Michael Wilford discusses Comic Jumper's production values and accessibility, as well as what the studio hopes to accomplish with its future projects.

What were you most happy with during the development of your games?

Michael Wilford: We released Comic Jumper in 2010, and we tried something new that we hadn't really done before, which was to bring in writers and professional voice actors to tell a bigger story and hopefully add some spoken comedy. Going into it, we were worried about how it would all come together, but without a doubt I have to say that it's what I am most happy with.

The writers Matt Entin and Ed Kuehnel were fantastic, and the actors went above and beyond to make a downloadable title sound better than a lot of big budget triple-A retail projects. I'm super proud of the game and still laugh when I play it.

What were you least happy with, in retrospect?

MF: With all the audio and writing and the four distinct comic book art styles, we always knew Comic Jumper was going to be a big game, but it ended up being even bigger than we anticipated, so the project took longer to finish than we had hoped.

Also, we set out to make the game play like Gunstar Heroes, but we could have done a better job at making it more accessible to players that don't know what Gunstar Heroes is and how it's different from a lot of shooters today.

What is the biggest lesson you're going to apply to the next game you make?

MF: I want to find a way to make our games something that people can keep coming back to in order to find something new.


Radiangames has come to the Xbox Live Indie Games scene with a blaze of glory. Releasing a game per month since June, Luke Schneider has shows a lot of developers how to bring together gameplay, graphics and sound into one coherent series. Here, Luke discusses his dealings with XNA, and what he plans to work on in the future.

What were you most happy with during the development of your games?

Luke Schneider: I was most happy about being able to create six quality games in such a short time frame. While I didn't hit game-a-month pace until later in the year, I'm happy with how each game turned out and that the response has been very positive overall.

With the seventh and final monthly game (Ballistic) coming out in late January, I think I've accomplished something with this series that's never been done before.

What were you least happy with, in retrospect?

LS: The only thing that really bothers me is having to switch away from XNA and XBLIG in order to make more money so I can keep doing independent development. I really enjoy using XNA and would like to keep doing so and expand into other genres, but the games aren't selling well enough to keep me afloat.

I can't blame anyone but myself though, because I've been too focused on making the games I wanted to make for XBLIG instead of adapting better to what has worked well. Instead of doing very focused arcade-style games for one dollar, I probably should have made somewhat deeper games (like Inferno) with more personality and sold them at three or five dollars.

In terms of my games, I realized too late that the original Crossfire should have had difficulty levels. I added gameplay modifiers to make the game more accessible in an update, but that was too late for most people and not the best solution.

What is the biggest lesson you're going to apply to the next game you make?

LS: Super Crossfire will be coming to lots of platforms with the best parts or Crossfire 1 and 2 all rolled into one, then spiced up with some extra content and polish. I expect it to come to PC and Mac first, with iPhone/iPad versions a little later. I'm very curious to see how the game does on other platforms compared to XBLIG.

As for what I do after Super Crossfire, I'll definitely be going for homeruns from now on instead of a bunch of singles. The monthly games are a bit exhausting to create, and I want to make sure I put out a couple games that really show off what I'm capable of before I have to get a real job again.

I'm hoping Microsoft does something drastic like adding Achievements to XBLIG so that the platform can make money for more people, but it seems unlikely to happen. That's not to say some developers don't make nice money on XBLIG, just that very few people do.

Ska Studios

Ska Studios has tackled multiple fronts on Xbox Live, with The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai on XBLA and ZP2KX - Zombies and Pterodactyls 20XX for XBLIG in 2010. The team is currently working on a follow-up to The Dishwasher, as well as Charlie Murder, which is set for a 2012 release. In this interview, James Silva talks about his experiences in 2010 as he adds new members to his previously one-man operation.

What were you most happy with during the development of your games?

James Silva: 2010 was our first experience of teamwork actually; I brought Dustin on to help get us set up for PAX East 2010, but we ended up being able to put him to work in the mapmaking department as well. He’s made most of the maps in ZP2KX, our XBLIG contribution for 2010.

Speaking of XBLIG in 2010, it again gave us a nice outlet for side projects; while we’re tooling away on The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile obscure bug fixes, it’s great to be able to blow off some steam with a small scale side project where you can really just go nuts creatively.

Of course, the main project we’ve been working on in 2010 is The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, which is in its final stages of development. Like the first game, I’ve stuck with the “I’m doing all the graphics and coding, so I get to do what I want” development methodology, which definitely lends itself to some interesting emergent gameplay.

What were you least happy with, in retrospect?

JS: I still wish I had more copies of myself.

Also, I made some comments about “honor” in game development, where I suggested we should aspire to make games first to make good games, second (if at all) to make money. I ended up taking a little bit of backlash flak over that between the developers I cited as my example of “dishonorable” development and an article that painted those of us in the “make good games” camp as elitists.

What is the biggest lesson you're going to apply to the next game you make?

JS: Make better editors! I’ve discovered that by building more robust, flexible editors, not only does the created content reflect it, but I can actually start expanding this beyond a one human operation.

Zen Studios

Zen Studios has been working on both XBLA and PSN for years, with releases such as Pinball FX, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and The Punisher to name a few, but it has also released a bunch of new titles in 2010, including Pinball FX 2 for XBLA, Planet Minigolf for PSN, and Marvel Pinball for both parties. Here, managing director Zsolt Kigyossy discusses cross platform development, and what's in store next for the Hungarian Studio.

What were you most happy with during the development of your games?

Zsolt Kigyossy: This past year we saw a huge shift across the industry to bring deeper levels of social connectivity between gamers. We were right in the middle of that trend, and for us, the implementation of some great community features such as in game score notifications, Wizard Score & Team Force in Pinball FX2 and Marvel Pinball turned out to be great!

Players have really responded to the competitive modes we have included. There are now thousands of requests in at Microsoft and Sony for friends lists to be expanded from 100!

Those games are probably the best ones we have ever created – our enthusiasm about pinball hopefully shined through – and bringing in new features to such a classic genre in an innovative way makes us really proud. We strive to preserve the history of pinball but also try to keep it fresh so it excites the next generation of players.

What were you least happy with, in retrospect?

ZK: We loved working on Planet Minigolf, but the game turned out to be too challenging for our players. There is a very thin line between challenging and frustrating, and we should have made the game more forgiving.

The learning curve before players can really start to enjoy the game is a bit too long; we need to address this as soon as we can. We think the implementation of the PlayStation Move controls adds a greater dimension of playability to the game and hopefully gamers will give that a shot.

What is the biggest lesson you're going to apply to the next game you make?

ZK: We must lay more weight to prototyping a new idea at the very start of initial development – that is, a fun prototype! Only after this will we start investing in full scale production. The cost to develop downloadable is quickly increasing since players are more demanding higher quality; but the most important element is the fun gameplay!

This was really a banner year for digital titles – Limbo, Super Meat Boy, Bit.Trip.Beat, Joe Danger – I could go on and on. One thing is clear, the bar has been raised and the experience expectation at the 10 to 15 dollar price point is much higher than it was a year ago.