Edinburgh’s Haiku Interactive has released its latest title on the Xbox Indie channel. Space Police on Super Highway 9, is a top-down, vertically scrolling racing game, in which the player has to patrol the infinite road network of galactic highway 9, tracking down law breakers, ne’er do wells and perps, then ramming them off the road, into the inky, endless depths of space.
We tracked down Haiku’s Alex Waterston, to ask him a few questions about the game – and the company behind it.
[Scottishgames] Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us. It’s much appreciated. So, first of all, who are Haiku and how did the company start?
[Alex Waterston] Haiku is three chaps: Alex, Jock and Duncan. Our three brave heroes previously worked together for Outerlight down in Leith. Jock and Dunc worked on The Ship and Alex jumped in a while later to help with what became Bloody Good Time. Towards the end of Bloody Good Time’s development things got rather complicated and Outerlight went through some difficulties. A lot of staff had to be let go and most of the remaining understandably left of their own volition. Outerlight and the publisher for Bloody Good Time, Ubisoft, were in disagreement about some fundamental business matters and money for salaries had long dried up. At that point we decided to go it alone and Haiku was formed. Ubisoft were left with a project that they couldn’t really complete and they came to us for help. We couldn’t turn down good, paying work and jumped at the chance to act as consultants and help Ubi train a new team in India.
[SG] How would you describe Space Police On Super Highway 9 to a potential new player?
[AW] Space Police is a score-attack-vertically-scrolling-racer. Patrol the gigantically infinite Super Highway 9 ramming evil Baddies in their DeathCars and KillBuses off the road to stop them disrupting the morning drives of the billion commuters travelling between Earth and the outlying planets.
[SG] This isn’t your first Xbox Indie game. How are you finding it as a platform in terms of sales/users etc?
[AW] This is our third Xbox Indies game. The first we finished just before we started the company. It’s called Crate Expectationsand it was a pretty disastrous failure in terms of sales. It’s a block-sliding deep strategy game and we actually really enjoy playing it. It seemed to have a few hardcore fans when it launched but we fell foul of serious marketing/theming issues. A game that uses Crates as it’s main selling point despite having dynamic lighting and shadows, HDR and beautiful reflections still looks like yet another sokoban, block-sliding puzzle game and nobody really likes those. Crate Expectations took three developers and an artist 2 months and made 96 sales. Ouch. Our second Indies game, AvaGlide, did a lot better selling more in it’s first half day that Crate Expectations ever sold but, to be honest, it still has a long way to go before it breaks even. We had some amazing reviews and got some Kotaku front page time, Rob Fearon over at xnplay.co.uk gave us the most amazingly humbling review. He really loved it which was absolutely great. There are still players plugging away at it. We can see changes in the scoreboards daily and we still see a handful of sales each day but making up 5 months of development time when you’re selling for a dollar a pop is almost impossible on Indies.
[SG] What made you turn to a driving game – and a top-down driving game at that?
Space Police was born out of two things. First we wanted to make a project quicker and cheaper to see if we could get a positive return on it. So we knocked the core of the game together in two days. We were recommended a great artist over in Glasgow called Sandy Beveridge who provided the ace artwork. After the initial couple of days there were all the boring bits to do – front end, HUD, scoreboards, testing, gameplay tweaking. It’s probably three or four weeks of work in total. Once we’d decided to try a super-fast development cycle it was easy to decide what game to make. The entire game was created based on the name Space Police on Super Highway 9. I dreamt it up on the train to Dundee with the other two guys. That name and a few others have been sitting in the back of my head for ages. There’s something about it which just really appeals to me I suppose.
[SG] OK, leading question time. What would be the best thing Microsoft could do to make the indie channel a better place for independent developers like Haiku?
[AW] This is a very difficult question to answer. The channel is seeing a distinct upward turn in quality at the moment which is really nice. There are still random, trolling Avatar Massage games sneaking through the gaps but there are also some really amazing games making it through. It would be really nice to see Microsoft bringing more eyes into the channel by running more dashboard promos to highlight those games but, and this is a big but, any dash space used for Indies games is dash space that isn’t being used for XBLA games so I doubt it will ever happen. The revenues generated by XBLA games for Microsoft are so much more than the revenues any Indies game creates that it just doesn’t make any sense for Microsoft to do that. This actually highlights a decision that we’re having to make right now. We’re not sure that we should continue making Indies games at all. The total revenues for developers are just way too low and the risk is unbelievably high. If Space Police blows our expectations out of the water then I may have to eat my words but right now we just can not see any way of making the Indies channel financially secure and viable. Each of our games has cost us money and we don’t see any indication that they will eventually make it into profit yet. As much as we’d like to be able to invest the time and money into helping to make the channel profitable we really just can’t afford it.