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Friday February 17, 2006 9:31 pm

Playfeed Interview: Outpost Kaloki X Creator Steve Taylor

Outpost Kaloki X InterviewWe had the opportunity to talk with Steve Taylor of NinjaBee and Wahoo Studios. If you own an Xbox 360, you may know these guys as the creators of the Live Arcade hit Outpost Kaloki X. We talk with Steve about Outpost Kaloki, the process of shipping a game for Xbox Live, and the importance of Xbox Live Arcade to an independant game producer:

Steve, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. To start out, can you give our readers a rundown of who you are and what your position entails?
I’m the president of NinjaBee and Wahoo Studios, but we’re a small company, so in practice I just manage projects and write code.

Give us some background on NinjaBee/Wahoo Studios.
Wahoo Studios is about four and a half years old.  We got started as a contract development company, doing work for hire for game publishers and other developers.  When we released Outpost Kaloki for the PC, we decided we needed a separate name for the “Indie” side of the company.  NinjaBee is the name we use for anything we develop and release on our own.

Turning to the Xbox 360, you guys developed the hit Outpost Kaloki, which later hit the Xbox Live Arcade as Outpost Kaloki X. Can you give us some insight into how you go on board with Microsoft, and the process of virtually shipping a game for Live Arcade?
Originally, we designed what we thought was a pretty cool tycoon game for console play.  It was aimed specifically for the console player in control and other gameplay elements.  We pitched that idea to a ton of publishers, and while they were very complimentary of the game, nobody was willing to risk a traditional development budget to get the game on a console system.  So we eventually redesigned the controls for the PC and released the game on our own in the PC downloadable market.
We later had the chance to show the game to Ross Erickson at Microsoft and explain our original vision for the game.  He believed in it enough to get us signed up for doing Outpost Kaloki as an Xbox Live Arcade game.  For us, this meant a return to the original vision we had, but also an expansion into a bunch of new areas including a ton of Xbox 360 specific features, new gameplay, new technology, new graphics, new stories, and more…

For those who haven’t yet delved into it, tell us about Outpost Kaloki X.
In a nutshell, it’s a wacky space station management simulation game with weird alien creatures, funky space ships, funny stories and situations, and some evil nasty alien invaders.
It’s pretty easy to pick up but has some challenging content.  There are two full campaigns and a bunch of individual scenarios, and a set of downloadable content you can get if you run out of new levels to try in the main game.

What games had the strongest influences on creating Outpost Kaloki? We have personally been telling people that it’s like Lemonade Stand on steriods.
(Laughs) Don’t do drugs, kids! I like Lemonade Stand, but I don’t often hear that comparison.  Outpost Kaloki is a lot more story-based and has a ton more content and options.  It’s also much more action-oriented, especially in the War Story levels.  We were influenced by games like Zoo Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon, and Roller Coaster Tycoon, of course, but the controls are a lot more simple and designed from the ground-up for Xbox 360 play.  Actually, Harvest Moon was an influence on a particular downloadable content package that’s available now.  I think the rest of it just sort of grew out of the original idea and a lot of fiddling around.

The intricacies of OKX’s economy and supply/demand factors are really impressive. How were those relationships fleshed out in development?
At first, we designed what we thought was an interesting mix of resources that visitors to a space station might be interested in, and some structural elements (power, maintenance) that complemented those.  Then we fleshed out the unique technology levels for each category and tweaked the game a lot until it was fun to play.  One programmer on the project did a bunch of math to figure out how a bunch of stats on various expansions ought to be balanced, and we factored all of that in, but a lot of the final balance came from playtesting and adjusting.

Over the past coupe of months, we have noticed a few expansions released for the game - two were free, and the other costs 200 Microsoft Points. Do you guys plan to continually released stylized scenarios that coincide with world events (Fireworks for New Years Day, Love for Valentine’s Day) as well as making the game bigger? This approach seems similar to The Sims franchise.
We mostly just explored some specific ideas we had for stretching the game a bit.  We didn’t intend holiday themes, but gee, that seems like a great idea in retrospect…

When might we expect to see the next expansion for the game available on Live? Any clues as to what the subject matter will be?
A couple of new levels became available in the first week of February (again, both free and non-free).  That’s actually it for now.  We plan on doing more downloadable content packages, and the game is carefully built to support them, but we’ll have to wait to see how things turn out for the game and how well the existing downloadable packages sell.

Outpost Kaloki X

Might we expect to see competitive play in a future scenario or sequel to Outpost Kaloki? We dream of a day where we can compete against friends in the same scenario, at the same time.
Multi-player elements are a big dream for future versions of Outpost Kaloki, but we’re not sure yet how likely this is to happen.  It was hard enough doing the single-player game in time for the system launch.  We’re fairly busy with new projects, including a new Live Arcade game, so we’ll have to wait and see how quickly we can get back to a new version of Outpost Kaloki X.

Let’s switch gears back to Xbox Live Arcade for a moment. Outpost Kaloki is available as a standard PC game. Compared to Live Arcade,  which method of distribution has proven to be more successful for you?
Without a doubt, it’s Live Arcade.  Honestly, Outpost Kaloki for PC was our first downloadable PC game, and we made some mistakes in how that was released, and the NinjaBee.com site is not exactly a well-known mecca for gamers.  But more than that, we feel that Xbox 360 Live Arcade is simply the more appealing home for the game.  It’s a console game at heart, and the current group of gamers giving it a try on their 360s is really the group we envisioned playing it in the first place.  We think there are a lot of people like that in the PC world, too, and the PC game won some awards that we’re very proud of, but so far the PC version hasn’t exactly paid for any sports cars for the development team.

How important is a service like Xbox Live Arcade for the indy developer?
This is going to sound gushy, but really, to me this is nothing short of revolutionary.  It was pretty clear that there was no other way we were going to get this game on a console where we knew it belonged.  This opportunity let us make the original game we envisioned, make it available to the people we were trying to reach, and (we hope) earn enough money to do more games on our own!  For us and for a bunch of other independent developers, this is a fantastic opportunity.

What’s next for NinjaBee/Wahoo Studios? Are you sticking with Outpost Kaloki for the time being, or can we expect some other innovative titles to hit the market soon?
We continue to do traditional contract work for publishers (which we enjoy a lot and which has its own distinct advantages), and we’re pursuing more independently released games at the same time.  More Outpost Kaloki is possible in the future, but in the short term, we’re working on a very different Live Arcade title which we should be able to talk about soon.

Steve, we thank you for your time.

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