Thursday, August 23, 2012


What’s the dream of game developers like myself? To get an opportunity, even the slightest one, to publish your own game title on the big leagues. That game that you always dream of creating from scratch. Your masterpiece. Your 9th Symphony …

Some of us, generally “indies”, even dear dream of watching that game become a success once it goes gold. The kind of success that allows us to officially become part of the Industry from that moment and on with a critical mass of loyal gamers waiting for our next tiles with sincere smiles of joy on their faces.

For Dean Dodrill, creator of the acclaimed game entitled “Dust: An Elysian Tail”, the dream has become a reality.

For those of you who still don’t know, Dean’s game (Dust: AET) was the grand-prize winner of the Dream.Build.Play contest held back in 2009. Recently, the game went gold on the Live Arcade marketplace  for the XBox 360 console (“XBLA”), as a part of the Summer of Arcade 2012 promotion (“SoA”).

As soon as the game got released, it received (and still does) lots of positive reviews, articles, kind words from buyers, a zizillion of tweets and FB posts, and ratings varying from 8.5 to a perfect-10 score.

Most of them, like this interview with the guys of IGN’s  Podcast Unlocked (which I recommend listening to), focus on the story behind the creation of the game and the game itself, from the perspective of gamers.

So, since the game was fully developed with C# and XNA, being a strong supporter of both technologies for years, I decided to try luck and interview him from the perspective of an indie XNA'er.

Well, … guess what? Dean kindly answered all of my questions, so be prepared to read his responses after watching the launch trailer of his game.

Ok, we’re back. Before posting the interview I want to thank Dean publicly for accepting the interview and taking the time to answer all the questions.

Now, enjoy the reading …

Q: Are sells going as you expected? I mean, I don’t want to know the figures; instead, I want to know whether they have reached a point where you can continue developing games professionally (you know, to continue living the dream) or not (= it contributes to make you family’s life better for a while but it is not enough to go beyond).

A: It’s a little early to determine how well sales are going, but I do believe the game will allow me to continue game development, at least at the scale I’m currently working on.

Q: How was it like using the XNA framework –from and artist viewpoint, given your lack of programming experience? (I mean, pros and cons) Which features do you love for C#/XNA to have built-in (I mean, that lacking feature that forced you use a workaround or take a programming detour)?

A: Since I’ve never programmed with anything other than C#/XNA I can’t really compare it to other languages. I will say that I found it fairly easy to pick up, and since much of my code resulted in some sort of visual feedback in the game, iteration was fun. Garbage collection on the 360 was always a hassle, but I loved many XNA specific niceties, such as SpriteBatch and streamlined gamepad support. I also love XACT and how relatively easy it was to work with audio and effects. If I could help I would continue working with XNA exclusively.

Q: Which features of the extended XNA APIs for Live Arcade did you use? Again, how was it like using them?

A: I did have to use the XNA extensions for XBLA, and admittedly most of that was a hassle. The biggest issue is that most of it is poorly documented, and there were always certification issues which were inherent of XNA. Integrating Leaderboards and Achievements was one of my least favorite parts of the process. I definitely got the feeling that XNA wasn’t created with XBLA in mind.

Q: Given that you got a contract with MSFT, do you still own the IP rights of Dust: AET? Did you receive financial advantages, like not having to pay for (re)certification) and or dev/test kits? (if you can comment on it, of course)

A: I do own the IP to Dust:AET, but of course have signed an exclusivity period with MS. MS helped with testing and localization, and assigned me an excellent producer who helped push the game through the system (as well as offered valuable design suggestions). It’s a mutually beneficial agreement, otherwise I can’t go too much into details.

Q: Are you planning additions/extensions to the game? Say, now that you met the deadline for Summer of Arcade, you want to add that feature that stayed behind and would have loved to develop for the release by “unlocking some extra time”?

A: I haven’t given much thought to anything like DLC. Thankfully I didn’t have to cut anything to meet the SoA deadline, it was just a matter of compressing the schedule down and working VERY hard for a few months. Given more time I would have liked to polish a bit more, but that’s the curse of any project I’m sure. I do have plans for future games in this universe, but nothing to announce at this time.

Q: Are you planning to port the game to other MSFT platforms like WinPhone8, Win8 and the Surface? (for instance, by using Monogame or ANX).

A: MS and I haven’t discussed anything outside of XBLA at this time. I was honestly so busy focusing on the XBLA release that I hadn’t considered a port. If anything pops up I’ll be sure to announce it, but XBLA remains my focus as of this writing.

Q: Thanks in advance for reading, your response and for such a great XNA game which serves as a great inspiration for us, indies.

A: Thanks for the interview, Pete.

Game Description:

Immerse yourself in a gorgeous hand-painted world on a search for your true identity. As the mysterious warrior, Dust, your action-packed journey will take you from peaceful glades to snowy mountaintops and beyond. At your disposal is the mythical Blade of Ahrah, capable of turning its wielder it into an unstoppable force of nature, and the blade's diminutive guardian, Fidget.

Battle dozens of enemies at once with an easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master combat system, take on a variety of quests from friendly villagers, discover ancient secrets and powerful upgrades hidden throughout the massive, open world, and uncover the story of an ancient civilization on the brink of extinction as you fight to uncover your own past.

  • Take control of Dust, a warrior searching for his true purpose, as he joins forces with the mystical Blade of Ahrah and its guardian, Fidget, to save the world of Falana from an army unlike any before it!
  • Explore an incredible hand-painted world!
  • Match wits and weapons against challenging monsters!
  • Take on side-quests from a cast of colorful, fully-voiced characters!
  • Craft dozens of items and discover Falana's rarest treasures!
  • Compete against your friends' high scores in ranked Challenge Arenas!

Nice interview, don’t you think?

Not only is the game fantastic but also it may help developers finally understand how powerful C# could be when coupled with a fine tech like XNA, despite unavoidable performance differences with native bits, when you use the tech right even as a one man band (like in Dean’s case).

It’s a pity that many devs (pro and indie) still deem XNA as a tool for kids and hobbyist, only, and don’t give it an opportunity. And what is worse, it’s a shame that MSFT –at least for what is publicly known so far- won’t update it any longer

To wrap it up, Dust: AET shows off a quite enjoyable gameplay, incredible art as well as the mechanics behind its 2D environment, like skeletal animations, particle systems, input combos, shaders, to mention just a few.

So, what are you waiting for? Go and buy it now!