Aaron McCray of Arrogancy Games on Xbox Indie Titles

As expected of its infancy and surge of apps, hidden in the corner of your Xbox 360 Dashboard, there is a potential trove of quality games, hidden away in the unmarketed Community Games section of the Xbox LIVE service. Even though the state of the service is questionable, if you dig deep enough, you will find quality Xbox 360 Community Games titles for a fraction of the price of most Xbox LIVE Arcade titles, as our very own Matt Yeager has pointed out for us a couple of times.

Breaking onto the Community Games’ Most Popular blade of releases recently has been the arcade-style brawler Angry Barry, the second XBox Live Community Games effort from Arrogancy Games. Taking obvious cues from Data East’s classic Bad Dudes, Angry Barry is traditional romp through levels full of enemies to punch in, all influenced by people and events stemming from the 2008 presidential election campaign. Classic arcade buffs should find the two-player brawler a steal for a meager 400 Microsoft Points, but fans of classic, old-school gaming should keep an eye on the name Arrogancy Games, as according to one of its members, the studio is just warming up.

Aaron McCray is one-half of the duo responsible for most of what players see in an Arrogancy Games title. McCray works as an artist, designer, musician and writer for the studio and has teamed up with Alex Welch, who is listed as a programmer and designer, to bring gamers the three titles available on the studio’s official Web page. In the wake of Angry Barry’s release, McCray was kind enough to accept an interview with us to detail the past of Arrogancy Games, and perhaps most importantly, its future.

DHGF: First of all, can you explain Arrogancy Games for everyone? How did the team originally form and what message is the team trying to put out to players with its games?

Aaron: I used to create embarrassingly horrible anime-inspired Flash animations in the early days of Flash and post them on Newgrounds.com. In that time period, the Newgrounds creator/owner, Tom Fulp (you may know him better as the co-creator of Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers as part of The Behemoth) was programming Flash games with various animators, and I began work on a game project with him. That fell through, so I found another awesome programmer, Alex Welch, to work with, and we began working on game projects together. The Arrogancy name comes from the horribly animated series I was working on and known for at the time, and I kind of got stuck with it.

Our message, if you can call it one, is one of many independent developers – that games can go beyond the typical nature of what mainstream games are normally created as. Games can be comedies, they can be political satire, they can be nostalgic throwbacks, they can be social commentary. You can express ideas in games similar to what is found in any other creative medium, and we focus on doing that.

 

DHGF: The company produces titles in both Adobe Flash for the PC as well as Community Games for the Xbox 360. Was this a case of originally developing titles in Flash and moving on to the XNA format? What was it about XNA and the Community Games services that attracted Arrogancy Games to the format?

Aaron: Unfortunately, as Alex and I got older, more and more bills piled up and it became … not feasible for us to continue making games for free. So, we started looking into options to actually earn some money back from our games and that’s when XBLA started really taking off, so we looked into that. We started working on an XNA title and attempted to win Dream Build Play with it for a free ride to XBLA, similar to The Dishwasher or Blazing Birds and to cover the 6 months or so of added development we would need to finish it. Well, we ended up being a runner-up (possibly because our title was a bit more unfinished than the winners – no way to know, though), meaning we had to put it on the backburner until we got enough cash on hand to cover additional development.

Two months into development on that title, Microsoft announced its Community Games service, and we thought we’d try out making some smaller projects for that as well. We created Adventurer Pets to kind of try to test the water and see how things worked, and then created Angry Barry, which had more of our “personal touch” put on it. We really do love the idea of making whatever we want and putting it on thousands of consoles around the world – it’s very similar to what we were doing in Flash, just on a different system, and that’s what we love doing. Entertaining people.

 

DHGF: It’s evident the team loves games of old-school nature. Adventurer Pets is openly billed as an “homage/update” to the C64 title Floyd of the Jungle and Angry Barry has a mass of Bad Dudes influence to it. Is the team’s goal to cater to those looking for challenging, arcade-like experiences seen in classic titles? What other classic titles have inspired the team over the years? Are there any other classic series you’re looking to update or pay homage to?

Aaron: I started with a Commodore 64 and from there was pretty much a Sega kid (although my friends all had Nintendos – they just didn’t know that Genesis did what Nintendon’t-didn’t) that went back and got his hands on all of the Nintendo systems in middle-high school. Alex is from the UK and grew up with Amigas, which I guess he played on his tea breaks or whatever.

The “secret” to our XNA development is that we’re doing one title inspired by something we loved playing as a child, going from system to system chronologically. We started with Commodore, moved to arcade/NES … our next title will be a dating sim that pays homage to the perverted games Alex played alone in his room on his Amiga and then we’re moving to the SNES with something that will be suspiciously similar to A Link to the Past (without copyright infringement!).

 

DHGF: What was the feedback like for Adventurer Pets? Does it annoy you that, currently, there is no way for users to currently rate a game on the service or does the team thrive on the grassroots, word-of-mouth hype seen around the Internet?

Aaron: A lot of people didn’t like Adventurer Pets, which was to be expected; it was kind of slow and floaty like Floyd originally was, and we didn’t really want to modernize the gameplay more than we already did because, to us, it missed the point of what made Floyd so fun. That was a quick, personal project, so I don’t mind; if we could have made that one free, we could have. And, hey, some people did like it quite a bit, so I’m glad that we could entertain some, at least.

We need ratings and exposure desperately. Most people visit Community Games once, see a bunch of massagers, applications or glorified tech demos in the most popular section, assume that’s what it has to offer and never come back. The organization of the service has scared away gamers, making a place where applications thrive while ruining any chance to make enough of a profit to justify six-plus months of development time for a mid-sized game. Hopefully, the user ratings will help to bring some of the actual gamers back to our service so that they can actually find the good games on there.

And, just for your readers – you get to Community Games by going on your 360 dashboard, going to ‘Game Marketplace,’ and then going to ‘Community Games’ to find us!

 

DHGF: Angry Barry has recently released on the Community Games service and it is already among the most popular titles. How successful has the game been so far and what was the team’s original motivation behind developing an arcade-style brawler?

Aaron: For a Community Game, it’s rather successful, and for an actual GAME on the service, even more so. It’s not getting quite enough to really fund making a living off of, but, so far, I can pay some rent and some bills and it gives me just enough financial leeway to make our next title.

I decided to make the game because I was looking at random stuff on Youtube and watched a Bad Dudes speed run right around election time and got a “wacky idea.” That kind of random coincidence is pretty much where all of my ideas come from. Well as much as I’d be willing to admit publicly, at least.

 

DHGF: What fueled the political themes found in Angry Barry? Is this a play on the Ronald Reagan character from Bad Dudes or was there another agenda on hand for the decision?

Aaron: Yeah, the Ronald Reagan character was a giant part of the idea behind it. I mean, come on, “Let’s have a burger?” Also, there was just a ton of ridiculous stuff that was going on in the election season that I found hilarious; the ridiculous ACORN meme, where people somehow turned it from what it was into this nefarious vote-stealing conspiracy James Bond villain organization, gaffes being blown up so ridiculously, Sarah Palin in general … it just gave us tons of material to satirize in a game. I got some ideas from some people on the Something Awful forums, and then we just ran with it.

DHGF : With two games now up and available for players to purchase, what are the team’s thoughts on the XNA platform? Has Microsoft and the Community Games service been easy for the team to work with? Does the team have any aspirations to “move up,” if you will, to the level of producing games for the Xbox LIVE Arcade service?

Aaron: We have a love/complaint relationship with Community Games. We absolutely love the opportunity Microsoft has given us and others. At the same time, we’re one of the biggest complainers about every little thing with Microsoft and with the community, in an effort to try and chip away at the flaws and make the service the best that it can be. What we, and a lot of the other devs want, is for it to be a place where both the kid who wants to make “My First Breakout Clone,” and the small business owner that wants to carve out a living for himself, can achieve their goals, and, unfortunately, at the moment, it favors the hobby side a bit too much.

We’d definitely like to make full fledged XBLA games in the future. In fact, that was our goal at the start – we just got a bit … sidetracked … but we’ll get back to it.

 

DHGF: The team has already announced a new game heading to the Xbox LIVE Community Games for the third quarter of this year entitled AAG, or in its entirety – An Awesome Game Where You Shoot Stuff and It Blows Up and Then You Win the Game: The Game. It’s clear from promotional materials that the game is striving to be an adventure/shooter hybrid. How far along is the game? The trailers seem to indicate AAG is the team’s most ambitious game yet. What prompted the change from arcade-style gameplay to more of an exploration format and is there anything else you would like to share about the upcoming title?

Aaron: Actually, I’d better change the date of that game on the site. AAG is around 25% done at the moment and we need around 3-6 months of pure development time to finish it. To try to fund that game, we’re releasing two more games this year in the meantime – firstly, our dating sim that tries to do more than just be a game where you try to see some badly drawn boobs, but instead explores the actual nature of dating/relationships (while being funny), and then our 2D Zelda type game that takes place in Detroit after aliens took all of the cars away and it turns into a post apocalyptic wasteland.

AAG is hugely inspired by Metroid, with a few influences from Flashback and Contra, and is better than most games on XBLA itself, in my not-so-humble opinion, backed up by a lot of the people in the XNA Community that have played it. It’s pretty huge, though, which is why it’s taking so long to come out.

 

DHGF: Of course, the team also has games available on the Adobe Flash format, such as Beeku’s Big Adventure, which can played right on Arrogancy Game’s Web page. Has the XNA format drawn the team away from Flash for the time being? What are some of the things XNA can offer you that Flash can’t and vice versa when you are developing your games?

Aaron: I actually want to get back into Flash development; we’re probably going to make a “Mini-Barry” and toss it up on Newgrounds for our old supporters on there and we had a few pretty expansive Flash titles that we never finished that we’d like to get back to. Yeah, XBox development is taking a lot of our time away from that, but we do plan on getting back to it.

DHGF: We thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Is there anything you would like to say to gamers and, perhaps, even some of the up and coming XNA developers?

Aaron: To gamers, I’d like to say, please, please don’t write off Community Games just yet. It’s a young service and great games take time to make; if the service gets viewership and support, more and more great games will come to it. There are already good games on there like Halfbrick Echoes, Weapon of Choice, Trino, and others; and games like Duality ZF with six month plus dev times are about to come out on it soon. Give it a chance and more and more great stuff will come, made by gamers just like me and you as opposed to the big faceless corporations that create “soulless” titles via focus groups that you complain about all of the time. Give us a little support and we’ll entertain you in return.

To the creators, I’d say, please, please, stop filling the service with nonsense if you can at all help it – you’re only hurting all of us. It’s fine to make personal projects, it’s fine to attempt making your first Tetris or Breakout clone – the service is set up to let anyone and everyone of differing levels to make games and that’s awesome – no one should be held back. However, the creators making the lazy cash-ins to try to ride the app wave when they know they can do better – that kind of stuff needs to stop or no one will ever want to come as you’ll drown everyone else out. And hey, even if you are making a one-week project, try to make it different or interesting or funny, or something. Barry was only a two-month project, but we at least attempted to put some thought into making it funny for gamers to play as well as putting some different ideas in it. We’re independent game designers who can make anything we please – let’s start doing so.

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