If you’re not a resident of Scotland, a reader or an isolationist of breathtaking arrogance, you may not be fully aware of the Outer Hebrides. They’re an island chain off the western coast of Scotland steeped in history, from the Mesolithic era onwards. They’re known for their rugged yet eclectic landscapes, impressive number of lochs (over 7,500), prehistoric sites and standing stones.
They’ve not, as yet, been noted for their contribution to the games sector, but that’s changed thanks to Hebridean Productions and their release of their first title, Bitzkrieg, for Xbox Live Indie.
Hebridean Productions aka Kenneth Mackinnon and David Taylor are graduates from Abertay, who worked together as part of the 2012 Dare to be Digital competition. They’re now working together, creating games, starting with the real time strategy action of BitzKrieg…
Bitzkrieg is out now on the XBLA Marketplace for an entirely reasonable, honourable and affordable 80 MS points (less than you pay for crisps in a week…)
We spoke to the guys and fired a series of pointed and incisive questions at them regarding the game, the team and their plans for 2013.
Scottish Games Network: Introduce yourselves. Who are you and what are your backgrounds?
Kenneth Mackinnon: I’m possibly the only Outer Hebridean game developer. I’m a 1st class graduate of Abertay university in Computer games application development. I also took part in Dare 2012 as part of Gastank games. Since Dare I’ve worked in Dundee at Tag games as a Server developer and now I work at Two Creature studios as a game programmer.
Dave Taylor: I was the co-designer and artist on Bitzkrieg I’m currently doing a Masters of Game Development at Abertay Uni in Dundee after graduating with a degree in game design & production. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kenny at Dare to be Digital and now we’re getting stuck in to Scottish game development in our own wee way. I hope y’all like Bitzkrieg as much as we enjoyed making it!
SGN: So how did you come to design Bitzkrieg as an actual product?
KM: The idea for the game came about from the realisation that there aren’t many console real time strategy games anymore, far fewer with couch multiplayer support, and local multiplayer with friends is something I really enjoy! I originally started prototyping the idea of a local multiplayer console RTS back in May 2011, with actually production starting towards the end of 2011 when Dave joined the project and provided actual art to replace my MS paint masterpieces and co-design the game. Since then the production cycle took it’s time as it was always a second priority to our other commitments, since we were still studying, taking part in Dare 2012, working in the games industry and in further study.
DT: Well since Kenny had already got the ball rolling for his own purposes, I offered (or did he offer? I can’t quite remember!) to do some art to give it a little bit of a style so he can show off his system without the coder art done in MS Paint. After a while we kind of merged into a little co-operative unit and eventually co designed the game for the purposes of having a finished project. I had never made an RTS, and don’t usually play them, so it was an interesting design process, but it was fun nevertheless and I learned LOADS! The main thing to take from this (especially if you’re a student) is that you should always attempt to finish and release a product onto some kind of platform, even if it’s simply your website, as the learning opportunities from the process of developing, testing, then jumping through hoops to making it available to the public cannot be underestimated!
SGN: Was the a particular reason you chose XBLA Indie as the initial platform?
KM: I choose this platform as I was familiar with the development tools for Xbox 360 indie games and I wanted to able to bring the final product to the Xbox 360 marketplace, as that’s where I thought this title could be most unique.
DT: I can’t remember when we decided to opt for Xbox Live Indies and not a PC only release, but I’m glad we did. From a design standpoint, we actually made quite an innovative wee game for the XBLI Marketplace. I don’t think I’ve seen a single other RTS on there, never mind one that strives to be an odd, fast-paced, single-screen game. Perhaps that was the reason? But also having a game that people can pay for was an interesting quirk for us as students, so I think we were playing big boy game developer in our small attempt at raising our game, so to speak. XBLI provided that, even if most people think it’s a platform full of Minecraft clones and zombie boob massagers, or whatever.
SGN: How did you find working on your first commercially available title?
KM: Finding time to work on the project was my main problem! It’s difficult to maintain focus on a project like this which had no budget and was lower priority than our other workloads.
DT: When you’re constantly learning, be it through university or in our case Dare to be Digital, you’ll always see opportunities over a long project to go back and edit, fix, perfect little things. Right now we look back and admit we would have made it COMPLETELY differently if we had started it with our current skills, but the desire to finish and release was far more important to us than having it be a testament to our ultimate, level 99 potential. That is a terrible spiral that is not worth getting stuck in!
SGN: Your plans for the rest of 2013 with regard to games?
KM: Continuing my work with the guys up at Two Creature studios & starting a new side project of course!
DT: For me I just gotta finish my Masters degree then I’ll be looking for a place in a real company with actual human people. The reason I got into games was for the atmosphere and the working culture so I’ll be looking for a place in this big community of UK game devs.
Thanks to both Kenneth and Dave for their time and thoughtful replies. You can find Bitzkrieg OUT NOW on the Xbox Live Indie marketplace. You can also find the team online on their own blogs. Kenneth here and David here.
Now go an buy the game.