Interview with Retro Remakes 2006 Competition Winner: Chris Roper

Pug Fugly Games
Who are you, what do you in real life?
My name is Chris Roper, I'm 33 and a father of one. My real job is a .NET developer.

How did you start writing games?
When I was about 10 I had a ZX Spectrum 48K for Christmas. It started with typing in games from magazines and grew from there. I've been developing games on and off since then.

You made "The Pyramid". Why this game?
It's a game I remembered fondly from the Spectrum days. But it also offered a lot of scope for improvement as a game, and for inclusion of accessibility features.

The Pyramid seems to excel in accessibility features for gamers with disabilities. Why did you bother?
Well it was the whole aim of the competition, and I entered with the aim of doing as well as I could. As it turned out, few people seemed to take much notice of that aspect. In retrospect I think that it was a mistake to announce the accessibility aspect of the competition so close to the start date, as by then I think many people had already set their hearts on a remake.

What’s the reaction been to your game so far?
Generally good. I think it was a suprise to pretty much everybody that I won the competition. There are a few common criticisms, difficulty curve being the most often mentioned one. The difficulty is all over the place, with seemingly no relation to the depth of the room in the pyramid, and the difficulty of it. Of course, the best reaction was that of the competition judges!

How did you decide which features you were going to implement?
It was a case of which features were possible. If I thought I could do something, then I did it. The time limit was a factor, but looking back I don't think there were any accessibility features that I thought of but didn't put in.

Did you decide on the accessibility design up front or were the features added as you went on developing the game?
A bit of both really. I had an initial list of possible games before the rules were announced. When the rules came out, it was obvious to me that The Pyramid was my best bet in terms of accessibility. One Switch was the first feature to go in, definable keys and joystick (once I'd bought a Dual Shock 2 USB adaptor) next. I think mouse / head tracker went in last after reading about it in the forum.

Why did you do it this way?
That's just the way it went. I write all my games pretty much the same way. I'll start developing once I've got just the acorn of an idea, and I find as I develop the game, the ideas develop with it. Pretty much the same with The Pyramid.

I like the feature that when you're zoomed in, you can still track enemies using the exclamation marks at the sides of the screen. How did you come to design this? Just inspiration or did you already encounter an example of this in
another game?
I was reading about Close Captioning on the forum, the idea of a visual representation of sound effects sort of lead me to think of visual representation of off screen events. Of course I've seen this kind of thing in games before, but usually only an arrow pointing to the next destination or something. I went through several versions before I came to what is in the game now.

Which features were the hardest to design/implement?
I guess overal the biggest difficulty was that every single screen and input mechanism had to work for 4 devices - keyboard, single switch, mouse & joystick. So difficult in fact that I think I missed a few devices on a few screens (eg joystick input not working on the splash screens). The highscore name entry, although normally such a trivial thing, represents days of work alone. Looking back, proper planning would have made things easier, but with 3 months to do the game I never considered I had the luxury of planning!

Were there any features that you wanted in the game but never made it?
Not in terms of accessibility. What I did want is better endings. I wanted a different treasure in each of the 15 end rooms, and a different unlockable to go with it. However, I just didn't get the time. Also there is no reward for getting 100%, which will be a disappointment for some gamers. Basically I gave priority to the gameplay and to accessibility features, and everything else had to be squeezed into what ever time I had left.

Although the game could be improved still accessibility-wise, it is one of the few games in existence with this many accessibility features jammed in one game. Overall, how much *extra* time/effort did you have to put in, compared to other games that you designed (if so?)?
Hmm. Difficult but I would say that at least 10% of the development time was down to the accessibility features. As already mentioned, this would be cut down with better planning. I also got bogged down in a lot of minor details - such as when the game is zoomed in, to make sure the health bar etc.. are still in the correct place and the correct size. Did my head in that did! Also I spent far too long on the name entry screen.

Overall, how much *extra* time/effort did you have to put in, compared to other games that you designed (if so?)?
Hmm. Difficult but I would say that at least 10% of the development time was down to the accessibility features. As already mentioned, this would be cut down with better planning. I also got bogged down in a lot of minor details - such as when the game is zoomed in, to make sure the health bar etc.. are still in the correct place and the correct size. Did my head in that did! Also I spent far too long on the name entry screen.

would you take the effort for your next game / what would you do differently next time?
I think so. I aim to make smaller, simpler games from now on. Being a father, I just don't have the time to commit to such big games these days. This will mean that many of the complexities I encountered in The Pyramid will not be an issue.

What other games impressed you from the Retro Remakes competition?
My favourite was Counterclockwise. I just thought it was the best game (accessibility aside) in the competition, really professional and very addictive. The Archaist impressed me, I particularly liked the options to select how many keys to use and what they would do. Clever, and looking back, I wish I'd have thought of that for The Pyramid.

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