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A Journey to Monaco: Andy Schatz Looks Back
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A Journey to Monaco: Andy Schatz Looks Back

April 18, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

How Six Weeks Becomes Four Years

Schatz's plans to create a quick-and-easy six-week game expanded a fair bit, as all small projects usually do -- but it was when Monaco was nominated for the Independent Games Festival based on a build of the game that was 11 weeks in the making that the developer realized he probably had something a little special on his hands.

Yet despite going on to win not only the Excellence in Design award at the awards, but also the "best in show" Seumas McNally Grand Prize, he still found that getting recognition from the bigger names in the industry proved tricky.

Monaco was an XNA game -- was. That's no longer the case, as the developer was later forced to switch gears as a potential deal with Microsoft didn't work out.

"I pitched Monaco to Microsoft Game Studios to be published by them right after the IGF, and they turned it down," he says. "I told them they were crazy and asked them to let me repitch, and they said 'Well, we don't normally let people repitch, but given how early this is, and given that it's all programmer art, sure, go ahead and repitch it.'

"So then I tried to make it something really marketable for a year or so," Schatz tells us. "Then I pitched it again, and they turned it down again."

At this point, it became quite clear to the creator that his game was not going to be on the Xbox 360, "because indies don't like publishers, and if I couldn't go through their first-party, then I wasn't going to be on the Xbox.

"That really bummed me out," he adds, "because I felt like the Xbox was the ideal platform for this particular game, because of the prevalence of headsets, the marketplace being strong, and the Xbox being the easiest console to work with. And of course the game was written in XNA, so it was a no-brainer."

Having suffered this rejection, Schatz opted to port Monaco to C++, with the aim to release the game for PlayStation 3. But there was even more heartbreak to come.

"I thought we were going with Sony for a while, but then things just sort of didn't work," he says. "Especially after the hacking scandal, their marketplace took a hit. They've done a good job clawing their way back into a decent position at this point, but back then, it was a little touch-and-go."

Running out of options, Schatz finally relented, and spoke to a publisher. Majesco is distributing the Xbox 360 version of the game, while Schatz self-publishes the PC edition as part of a simultaneous launch -- and as it turns out, he's actually pretty happy with how everything has turned out.

"I've ended up with a deal that is probably better for me than anything that I could have got from Microsoft," he notes. "I would have had to deal with exclusivity there."

But part of this move involved porting the game once again, this time to the RapidFire engine from Empty Clip. Those wondering why Monaco has taken nearly four years to get here: wonder no more.

"In the end, looking at what the Bastion guys did, it's not entirely clear whether it was a good decision in hindsight to port the game, because it took a significant amount of development time," Schatz admits. "But it was sort of one of those forks in the road that you can't see what's beyond the horizon, and you've got to take the one that provides you with the most options.

"It wasn't the wrong decision -- it was the right decision," he adds, "but in hindsight you can see that probably things would have been different had we decided to stick with XNA."

Another Andy

In 2011, Schatz was on the lookout for testers for the game, when he stumbled across a financial scholar with a huge passion for video games. Andy Nguyen had absolutely no experience in making video games at all, but you wouldn't have guessed that from the three months he spent writing an in-depth analysis of Facebook game Zuma Blitz.

When Nguyen sent the analysis across to Schatz, it was clear that Nguyen's inexperience in making games wasn't holding back his insight into the industry one iota. Schatz originally brought him on as a tester for the game, but once he realized Nguyen's full potential, he was quickly promoted to producer and level designer.

"Working with someone that you really click with and that you share a design philosophy with is incredibly energizing, and helps keep you on track, keeps you honest," Schatz notes. "I'd been looking for someone that I could call a business partner for a long, long time. Andy doesn't own part of the business, but he's definitely a design partner."

Nguyen was particularly critical about Monaco, but Schatz was extremely willing to listen to everything he had to say.

"The thing I always tell people is that you should always listen to feedback, and never listen to suggestions," says the creator.

"What I mean by that is, you want to take very seriously what someone's experience of your game was. If they tell you 'I didn't like it because I was lost,' and you say 'Well there's a minimap in the corner,' and they say 'I didn't even realize there was a minimap' -- sure, that's user error. But it points to something wrong about your minimap."

He continues, "Now, if they say 'What if I press a button to make the minimap come up in the middle of the screen?' at that point you just ignore them -- but you do need to take seriously that they didn't see the minimap. Why is that, and what can you do to improve that situation?"

The solution, says Schatz, isn't always obvious. In this case, should you remove the minimap altogether and make the game less reliant on a map, or should you change up the UI?

"I think it's very important to break down why someone had the emotional response that they did towards your game," he notes, "but it's generally a bad idea to take the specifics of a suggestion and use them, because the people giving the feedback just don't understand the game like you do."

The three main questions that Schatz put to Nguyen and the other testers -- questions that Schatz believes are the most important when it comes to feedback on your game -- were: What did you like, what did you not like, and what confused you?

"The things that they liked, you want to try and emphasize those," he adds. "It's important to know these, as it's important to know who your game is going to appeal to.

"The stuff they didn't like is what you try to fix -- or it could just be that they're not in your target market, so some of those things you might need to ignore."

And then there are the bits that confused the players. "These are absolute must-fixes," says Schatz. "If there's something about your project that a person just felt confused by, that's just a killer right there."

However, "None of these things say 'What should I do about it?' That's the designer's job."

There was another side to bringing in Andy number two as well. "Before Andy, and before I got married, the biggest challenge of being an indie developer was just loneliness," Schatz tells me. "I haven't had problems with loneliness in a few years -- being married is probably the biggest factor in that -- but also having someone that just eats, drinks, breathes games really gives me that outlet on the professional side as well."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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