When it launched some years ago, XBox Live Arcade’s message was clear: if you don’t have a multi-million pound-sterling budget, feel free to create a small indie game and get it published courtesy of Microsoft. Games like Marble Blast Ultra
and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
have shown that there is scope for original unique gaming from small developers.
Jeff Minter is one of gaming’s great legends, starting his career as a bedroom coder on classic computers before creating some truly classic titles of his own – Gridrunner
, Revenge of the Mutant Camels
and Tempest 2000
being some of the standout releases from his Llamasoft organisation.
Now Llamasoft is delving into Xbox Live Arcade development and has just finished work on Space Giraffe
, a shooter with a difference. Largely because it features random level phrases (“Shrieking Bloke Of Joy” anyone?) but also because the graphics engine uses the 360’s very own music player light synthesiser.
I managed to collar Jeff Minter and talk about his latest project. Have some tea and a muffin handy, it’s a good read - and a long one - so, here is the first glorious chapter in our two-parter.
First, for those who know not about the legend that is Jeff Minter, could we get a little background information about you? What interested you about working on video games and how did you get into the industry?
Well, I started making games for my mates in school back in 1979 and when further education didn't seem to be taking me in the direction I really wanted to go, and then illness dropped me out of education anyway, I decided to try making games commercially. I founded Llamasoft in 1982.
What was the inspiration for Space Giraffe
? We’re reminded of most of your previous work, with a little bit of SEGA’s Rez
thrown in too when we see screenshots of it in action.
Jeff Minter: SG
basically sequels my own work in Tempest 2000/3000
and the various light-synths. T2K
was the first game in which I started to bring together abstract shooty gameplay and light-synth-style visuals, and SG
built on top of the Neon engine is the furthest evolution of that concept so far.
For those who are looking at the screenshots, bemused in wonderment, what exactly is the premise of Space Giraffe
? It’s an arcade shooter with a twist, no doubt.
It's an abstract shooter with a surprising amount of depth and subtlety to the actual gameplay. If you're seriously playing the game to get a decent score then shooting is really just a secondary thing, a way of setting up the play environment to allow you to feed off the best point scoring opportunities. You can see this in the leaderboards in alpha test - I can see naive players coming in and playing it just "Tempest
style", just shooting everything, and although they can get to level 40 odd, I can have bigger scores than them by the time I get to level 17.