Interview with Mattrified Games’ Matt DeLucas

Mattrified Games was featured in the summer’s Indie Games Uprising on Xbox LIVE, bringing in an update to the already solid one-on-one fighter Battle High. Programmer Matt DeLucas was able to give IndieSnack the ins and outs of his development process and how he was able to shape Battle High into his own project.

IndieSnack: Can you start off by introducing yourself? How was Mattrified Games created and what is its mission?

Matt DeLucas: My name’s Matt DeLucas and I’m a gameplay programmer at Schell Games in Pittsburgh and an independent developer who creates games under the title of Mattrified Games. My mission is to create games that I not only enjoy playing but developing as well in the hopes that others out there will enjoy playing them as well.

IS: Mattrified Games was able to release a one-on-one fighting game titled Battle High on Xbox LIVE Indie Games. What made you decide to pursue a fighting game on the the Indie Games format?

MD: Just to clarify, I did all the programming, some gameplay design and some interface art for the XBLIG version of Battle High; the original version was developed by Point5Projects with GameMaker for PC. The original members on the forum were known as Iapetus – a ranked fighting game competitor – Serena – a fighting game aficionado – and Vanni del Moral (Titusthree), who still works on Battle High as lead artist.

I came on to help finish the PC version and after it was finished, I asked if I could convert it to XBLIG and was given permission to do so. As to why I wanted to do this and join the team in the first place was that I’ve always been a bit of fighting game fanboy and have wanted to develop one for some time, so I saw this as an exciting opportunity to get to do so and the indie format was a great outlet to do so without too many barriers.

IS: Fighting games are known for their extensive casts of characters. How did you approach Battle High in order to create and design your character roster? How did you settle on the school-based theme?

MD: As mentioned earlier, I didn’t actually design Battle High’s characters. For the PC to 360 conversion, I was given the sprites and given “free reign” to design the different move lists, hit box setup and other characteristics, so I did have a major part in the development of Battle High and even a small part of its story, but most of Battle High’s IP belongs to Vanni del Moral. I asked him this question, and I’m going to paraphrase his response:

“The game was influenced by the live-action Japanese film, ‘Crows Zero,’ hence the high school theme. The idea was to design the roster with a mixed of fun, serious, creepy and just downright outrageous characters. Another thing we tried to achieve was a rather deep story whose characters were not just random fighters but instead have their own personal missions and reasons for fighting. We hope that once a player becomes aware of a character’s history, the player and game character can develop a more personal connection. We gave the story a lot of thought to ensure we achieve that goal.”

IS: While the title may seem simple on the surface, the dash canceling really adds a layer of depth to the game. What prompted the inclusion of this feature? How hard was it to implement the dash canceling while still keeping the game as balanced as possible?

MD:The dash canceling system, which was absent from the GameMaker version of Battle High, was influenced a lot by Guilty Gear’s Roman Canceling system. I wanted something similar to this that would allow players to perform longer, in-depth combos but with ease. So instead of an awkward – at least for those on a controller – 3-button press, I decided on implementing a simple dash that could interrupt most moves for the cost of 1/3 of the energy bar. Because I had implemented this feature early on, balancing the game with it came rather naturally; I think if I had implemented it much later in the design process, balancing would have been exponentially more difficult, so getting most of my design decisions early on was probably for the best.

IS: What would you say was the hardest hurdle to overcome in developing a one-on-one fighting game?

MD: The hardest hurdle was finding the motivation to finish Battle High while working a full-time job. Deadlines help a lot, and I had two during the development of Battle High. The first deadline was set by Microsoft. I had started programming Battle High with XNA 3.1, but it was stated that XNA 3.1 games would no longer be accept after a certain date, so I had to finish the game in fear that converting the game to XNA 4.0 would be a huge hassle – which I later found out wasn’t.

The second was for IndieCade submission, so the update, based on feedback from the initial release, had to be finished by a certain date. The only problem with deadlines is that they sometimes cause me, and probably other developers, to rush but it’s probably better to have a project that is done on time and rushed in a few areas than one that isn’t complete at all – or that’s how I rationalize it.

IS: How did gamers respond to a one-on-one fighter on the Xbox LIVE Indie Games format – especially one of higher quality? What are your overall thoughts on the Xbox LIVE Indie Games platform?

MD: Reactions were mixed. Though the fighting game genre is gaining popularity, there are people who don’t like it for a variety of reasons, and there are certain characteristic of fighting games that I just couldn’t include with Battle High – the biggest being online multiplayer.

Some reviews would even start off with something like, “Now I don’t like fighting games…” which may not have invalidated the entire review, but definitely made me a bit more skeptical of it upon reading. Those who did like it, though, appreciated it in its attempts of being an homage to games of the genre other than some big, new exciting paradigm shift, which Battle High was never trying to be. But I sometimes feel people expect something like that when a game is designated as “indie” – something completely new in design or theme, which again, Battle High really isn’t. Battle High was just my attempt to bring a fun, simple fighting game to the XBLIG marketplace.

As for the XBLIG platform, developing for a console is very cool and exciting and is what originally attracted me to develop Battle High for this platform. XBLIG has its problems though, promotion being one of them. Some people simply just can’t find the indie game section or don’t want to take the time to. Also, it’s oversaturated with a lot of below-average games and those end up making all the other games look bad. When it comes to an artists’ portfolio, it’s often said a portfolio is as bad as your worst piece, and I definitely feel that stands true with the XBLIG marketplace. It’s like judging a book by its cover; it’s a common saying and a lot of people are told they shouldn’t do it, but most people do anyway. Despite these issues, I still think being able to develop for a console for only a mere hundred dollars a year is very intriguing and I hope I can continue to in the future.

IS: The title was recently resurrected with an update through a recent Indie Games Uprising promotion. What was the submission process like for this promotion? In the end, how did the promotion get your name and game out to gamers?

Well, Dave Voyles of Armless Octopus, a indie game review site, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in being a part of the promotion, which I definitely was. The different games were then voted on based on demos and various promotional footage and information by the public, and mine was one of the ones chosen to be part of the promotion. The only regret I have is that my game was approved for release way before the deadline for the IGSU promotion because of my IndieCade submission, but I was afraid to work on it and possibly do something that would cause the game to fail and be unable to make the release date. So though there were a few things I could have polished a bit more if I had waited.

The promotion did a great job getting the name of the games out as well as their developers through the site and through the use of other social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. The most exciting part was, near the end of the promotion, Microsoft put the games on the Xbox Dashboard, which is when we saw the greatest boost in sales.

IS: What did you learn from developing Battle High that you are looking to carry forward in future projects?

MD: That list is pretty big. I’d say that setting deadlines is definitely important. It’s hard to set deadlines yourself or when working for a team where there isn’t a lot of monetary compensation because there’s not much that can be done if a deadline isn’t met. So having outside sources – contests or game portals – set deadlines definitely helps.

From Battle High specifically, I learned so much: writing a shader for swapping palettes, basic AI, XNA development in general. The most important thing I learned was how difficult it is to balance a fighting game and the amount of time that needs to be put into it, something that playtesting with others would have definitely helped. All of these things, though, I want to carry on in future iterations of Battle High, which I’m hoping there will be, and my future games.

IS: Where do you see Mattrified Games in five years? Where do you think the video game industry as a whole is heading in the future?

MD: Well, I still see Mattrified Games as the title under which I release my indie titles and probably not a full-fledged company. There will probably be a second and much improved iteration of Battle High with online play (hopefully) and various other things, and in five years, maybe even a third will be completed by then. But, hopefully, I will be able release a few indie game series of my own design. Whether or not they will be XBLIG titles or not will depend on Microsoft and how accommodating these new PC portals like IndieCity and IndiePub are. I could see, in five years – if consoles still even exist – that app store-like features may become the norm where almost anyone can release a game or app on them.

One route the entire industry seems to be going is the phasing out of physical media, so eventually a majority of the games purchased will be downloaded through portals like Steam. There also seems to be an increase in the popularity of cross-platform development between mobile devices, tablets, and probably soon, if it’s not already happening, consoles and computers. Finally, I think developers will start making games more “fun” and people will start becoming bored with popular social games unless those industry leaders make paradigm shifts in the right directions. I feel like most of these things already are happening; I’ve never been good at predicting the future! Regardless, I hope in five years, heck, 50 years, there are still outlets for creative, aspiring and motivated independent developers to create and release their games.

IS: Any advice for aspiring video game developers?

MD: Games are hard. You need to know a lot and have a lot of help to make a game successfully. You’re combining visual art and programming and sometimes literature – for when your game has a narrative – and these all have subjective aspects. Because of this, there will most likely be people who dislike your game, probably some that downright hate it and think you’re a fool for even making it, but you can’t let that get you down. If you are happy with the final product, that’s probably the most important thing; if you’re doing this for a living, the second most important thing is making money, so studying markets, analytics and demographics is a good practice but you can’t let these stifle your creativity as a whole. Also, if you are trying to do this for a living, you can take my “Games are hard” quote and multiply its meaning by a trillion.

Also, you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people and their games. There are probably, at this point, thousands, if not millions, of people who develop and release indie games, some of which you’ll never hear of your entire life and vice versa. Your game is probably better than some and worse than others and because the judging, grading, reviewing, whatever, of games is subjective anyway, the concepts of “better” or “worse” don’t mean much anyway, so don’t get down on yourself. I will say that a finished game is better than one that never gets released or finished at all.

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Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

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