Nathan Fouts is best known for his distinctive and intense Indie Games titles Weapon Of Choice, an early hit on the platform, and Shoot 1UP, a smart take on Japanese bullet hell. Having been a developer since 1998 and previously worked at Insomniac Games, he’s become one of Indie Games’ elder statesmen, trailblazing a platform which has proved both deeply inspiring and frustratingly problematic.
He’s converting Shoot 1UP to Windows Phone 7, a task that, despite his development experience, is posing a unique challenge. The convenience of XNA support convinced Fouts to go ahead with the port, but accommodating the short attention spans of on-the-go gamers – and their screen-covering thumbs – is unfamilar territory for the man who openly admits to not having been a big mobile gamer up until now.
Cave’s iPhone port of Espgaluda II provided inspiration for solving UI issues: "I’ll be honest, we cribbed from [Espgaluda II] pretty hard, because, shoot, you can’t beat Cave, right?", says Fouts. Shoot 1UP is controlled by placing your fingers a little lower than the ships on screen, the tight formation spreading out when the digits are moved apart. But such control challenges are common to all mobile developers and – aside from a memory starved pre-handset SDK which necesitated a drastic, and needless, reduction in asset quality – Fouts has found Microsoft’s phone surprisingly pliant.
"We were surprised that we didn’t have to do too much to the processing side of how much we were throwing around," he says. "We did cut down the total number of ships because it’s total chaos – once there are thirty ships, you can’t even see the background. We’re still tweaking the total number of player ships, the number of bullets, but more for screen real-estate issues rather than processing. Which is exciting – I was surprised, I didn’t expect it to be that fast, but it’s been pretty good."
For all Windows Phone 7’s processing clout, though, Fouts remains concerned that Microsoft hasn’t been concerted enough in its promotion of the device, particularly with regards to the late launch date announcement, which he feels draws parallels with the similarly undefined beginnings of Community Games. "That makes me sick to my stomach when I think about it – the marketing side of me… it just makes me sad. I don’t know why, internally, they’re not able to talk about it, but I think it supressed some of the excitement from people.
"Maybe it will ramp up real quickly. I don’t know, but I hope so – for everybody’s sake, for all the developers, ours and even the longevity of the darn hardware. We don’t want it to go out like the Kin. Or even Zune for crying out loud."
But despite some woolly marketing strategies, Fouts believes that Microsoft has the opportunity to attract a much broader audience, so long as it keeps its software pricing low. Trying to sell at premium prices, he says, will limit the market to early adopters and technophiles. Mommy’s Best Games isn’t pandering to all the trappings of casual gaming, however, rejecting some of Live’s functionality for its first title.
"The Live stuff is… Well, when Shoot 1UP was first made, it was an arcade game at heart, which doesn’t have any namby pamby avatars or anything like that [Laughs]. We probably won’t have much going on that way. But if there’s an OpenFeint kind of thing, like high-scores, that would be perfect for the Live stuff. We’ll see how it pans out."
More prominent in Fouts’ mind than pricing or Avatars, is users’ ability to actually find games. "That for me is the place that all digital console and digital distribution has screwed up so far as opposed to the PC: figuring out how consumers can find the games. If Windows Phone 7 can beat [iPhone], that would be fantastic. It would just help everyone – it would help consumers and it would help developers, everyone would be so much happier! I really hope they put top guys on that."