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Q&A: Frozen Codebase's Ben Geisler On The Indie Life

Gamasutra has been talking to new independent developer Frozen Codebase, formed by veterans of titles such as X-Men Legends and Quake 4, on making Xbox Live Arcade titles, why being an indie is exciting now, and why the game biz needs more P
Green Bay, Wisconsin-based independent studio Frozen Codebase recently announced that they have been accepted as an approved Microsoft Xbox 360 developer. The company was founded in May by Ben Geisler, who has previously worked on titles like Quake 4, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, X-Men Legends and Soldier of Fortune 2, and is staffed by former Raven Software, Radical Entertainment, GarageGames and Astral Entertainment employees. Details of Frozen Codebase’s game for the console are yet to be released, but the company has announced that they will be using GarageGames’ Torque engine for the project. Gamasutra spoke to Geisler about the developer approval, their use of Torque, and how working as an independent differs from his previous experience. When was Frozen Codebase formed? The ball began to roll around E3 of 2006. Doors opened in early July of 2006. Why did you decide to form the company, and what was the general aim behind it? I believe we are witnessing a revolution in the independent games space. The success of Xbox Live Arcade and the popularity of the Independent Games Festival are just a couple of the events that point at this. While graphics continues to creep towards a plateau and the work in this area is diminishing returns, the work in gameplay has just begun. Perhaps this started with games like Katamari Damacy, Marble Blast Ultra and Gish, but it extends to the AAA space as well. For example, Grand Theft Auto isn't known for its graphics, it's known for its revolutionizing of free roam gameplay. This is a unique time when the concepts of independent games are breaking into the mainstream and the benefits are being reaped by the players. I like to compare where we're at now to what has been said about the Pixies, an influential but underselling alternative band: "not many people listened to the Pixies, but those who did started a band". If the Pixies are the most influential band ever, then what is the most influential game ever? I'd claim we've seen some of these in recent history and now it's time to make the translation. In short, we're a company devoted to the independent spirit but also recognizing our audience. Games are an art form, but they are also entertainment. As with all entertainers, we want to be close to our audience. A small studio like Frozen Codebase allows us this freedom and allows us to explore new, fun gameplay. We also wanted to do all this in a region of the country with a reasonable cost of living and quality of life. We figured, why not Green Bay. After all, it's warmer here than Antartica. This is game development in the frozen tundra - this is the last thing you'd expect and we like it like that. How is Frozen Codebase different from other companies you've worked for in the past? I've only worked for mainstream companies in the past, this is my first independent venture and I'm enjoying it! An independent studio feels much cozier; it feels much like the group of colleagues and friends I worked with at Radical. There I was part of the strike team led by Eric Holmes and devoted to one aspect of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction - characters and enemies. Our small studio has the feel of this strike team: intense productivity, a strong sense of team and a general sense that we're making a difference for the game. The difference here is that our "strike team" at Frozen Codebase is the entire team of seven developers. The difference is that, where at Radical it was typical to wear a couple hats, here it's typical to wear four or five hats. I'm a producer by afternoon and a coder by night. How difficult was it for you to get Xbox 360 developer approval? The relationship with Microsoft started at the “minna mingle”, a developer party at E3. From there I realized I had a lot of work to do. This is a tough industry; you need a great idea, a solid team and a sound business plan. Each of these was a hurdle but in the end it was a great learning experience. I would say it was perhaps more difficult than I thought it would be, but I think this is only an indication of the huge popularity of development on the Xbox 360. Say what you will but in the 360 Microsoft has truly created an excellent product to develop on. What kinds of risks did you face by starting work on a game for the platform before receiving the approval? Would it have been possible to port to another system if it had fallen through? Of course the risk is the cost of the development kits and the salary burn which occurs while the prototype is being created. We had backup plans should this have fallen through. Not only did we have backup plans of platforms to develop on, we had backups for the type of game we're making. For example, we started with a dozen concepts, developed prototypes for a few and moved on. It's all fluid and that's just how we roll. Why did you decide to develop for the 360? The 360 has a tremendous amount of potential. I think we've seen this in titles like Geometry Wars, Marble Blast Ultra and Mutant Storm Reloaded. Also, if we hadn't developed for the 360, our artist Billy Sweetman would have likely jumped into the bay - Green Bay - with a brick around his neck. That would have been sad so we decided to develop for the 360. How has the approval changed things for you? It's been a step, to be sure. It's nice to finally be able to talk to other industry people and let them know what we're up to. How is the development for the game progressing? Is there anything you can reveal about the project? The game is coming along great. We've had some closed doors focus tests which have helped, not only as a morale booster but as feedback for improvements. The game is still under the secret sauce header, unfortunately. Why have you decided to work with Torque for the project, and what advantages does the engine have for you as an independent developer? Many of us were familiar with Torque. James Lupiani and Justin Kovac came to us after working on Marble Blast Ultra at Garage Games. The rest of the staff knew Torque as well, this made it very easy for us to get going fast. GarageGames provides some great tools for independent developers. It's also a great excuse for side trips to Oregon. Would you like to see the company move into development for other systems in the future? Absolutely. All jokes aside, we're like typical console developers, we like to see our stuff on multiple systems and each one is a unique challenge. What other plans do you have for the future of Frozen Codebase? Plans? Hmm well after I type this I might go buy another cot for the office, the one we have is getting kinda smelly. Also I intend to get our designer (also sound guy) Norb Rozek a better sound recording area so he no longer has to record sounds inside an empty refrigerator box. I also think we should probably start shipping some games pretty soon, but that's just me. Seriously though, Frozen Codebase is here to stay so let's wait and see. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.

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