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Questions of Choice: An Interview with Nathan Fouts


                                            Nathan with his wife, who works as Mommy’s Best Producer

This week we got a chance to speak with Nathan Fouts, the man behind the remarkably entertaining Xbox Live Community title, Weapon of Choice. If you haven’t had a chance to play this brilliant game, download the demo. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be offering Fouts the paltry sum of 400 Microsoft Points for the full game in seconds. Let the interrogation commence:

Tech-Gaming: Let’s pick the mind of the game’s creator. Name five console titles that influenced Weapon of Choice.

Nathan Fouts: Hmmm… Top five in order of love are: Contra Hard Corps, Gunstar Heroes, Super Turrican 2, Shadow of the Colossus, and Metal Slug 3. And vaguely on topic, my favorite system so far is the Sega Genesis. Still play it all the time!

T-G: Can you briefly describe your background in game development?

NF: Canceled games, canceled games, canceled games, then Running With Scissors and POSTAL 2 for a few years (total fun), then Insomniac Games and Resistance: Fall of Man, Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, and some PS2 Ratchet games. I specialize in gameplay programming and design, such as weapon creation, boss monster A.I., blood stream physics, etc.

T-G: Weapon of Choice offers a refreshing amount of advancement to the run and gun genre. From the life system, death brushing, and vengeance missile- what was the impetus for these innovations?

NF: I carefully dissected my old favorites, especially Contra Hard Corps and considered how to improve them, at least, as far as I was concerned.  I love instant-kill games because the tension level is so high, but I still find them aggravating when I die. Death-Brushing came about as a way to even the difficulty level somewhat.

This has been a double-edged sword as some people find it too easy and some people still find it too hard. The good news is, most people really enjoy the difficult and find it just right. I guess you can’t please everyone.

Having each Operative act as playable life took weeks of writing down ideas, and thinking them through. In the end, I thought having no continues and each character act differently was a pretty gutsy move for the run ‘n’ jump genre, but I had confidence it could be rewarding and contribute to the overall feeling of each Operative being a unique, living, character.


                                                              Quick, shoot it in the head. No, not that end!


T-G: Looking over the completed game, is there anything you would have liked to add, or change about WoC?

NF:
I would love it if I could have made cooperative play work. Sadly I had
it working on the PC but could never get the framerate fast enough on
the Xbox 360. That is definitely something on the list if we ever do a
sequel.
I also wanted to include a collection-award system for the
game which would reward gamers for more exploration in the levels. That
could come with a subsequent version of the game but it’s not definite.


T-G: What was the greatest obstacle in the creation of the game?

NF: Reigning in the scope was a constant battle. I originally had around 40 levels designed, and probably hundreds of monsters. It does provide an excellent wealth of ideas for the possible sequel. But by then I’ll probably have all new designs in mind!

T-G: If you could change one aspect of the gaming industry, what would that be?

NF: Well, if things could just magically work, I’d love for all gamers to have the ability to instantly and perfectly get information about games in which they are interested. That would probably be a dream for anyone making any product, but let me elaborate.

For such a niche, old-school-turns-new game like Weapon of Choice, there’s a lot of gamers out there who I think would enjoy the game a lot but may not know about it. Those gamers may have only a few games on their Xbox 360 but would still enjoy Weapon of Choice because it happens to feel like the old games they grew up with, but with new playability.

The reason I say it’s “magical” is because there are lots of ways for gamers to keep up with info on their favorite new games coming out. I think there are a lot of gamers in the case of Weapon of Choice who don’t have the time to even keep track or look for games, but would still enjoy it.

This magic system would eliminate the need to actually look for information and keep up with things because it would … transmit information directly to your brain? Hmm… was something like this announced at the last CES? I hope so.


                                      One question: Is Teat Walker milk suitable for human consumption?

T-G: Those spider-udders on the first boss, reminded some players of male anatomy. Was this done on purpose?
 
NF: Those were actually designed after cow udders. I grew up around milk cows and the idea of including them in creature designs stuck with me. Impressions people have from seeing the Teat Walker (especially in action) are really entertaining.

T-G: What’s next for Mommy’s Best Games?

NF: We are currently holding a speed run contest! It ends January 26, 2009, be sure to check out the site here.
There’s some fun prizes like 4,000 MS points and one-of-a-kind prizes
like original production art and personalized swag. After that—it’s on
to the next big game! I can’t wait to reveal more, but some time will
have to pass for that.


Weapon of Choice fans, leave your comments and questions for Nathan; hopefully he’ll take a moment out of his busy schedule to answer a few.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

61 comments

  1. Great interview, DE! I got to download the game.

  2. Is is true Ted Price occasionally walks around the Insomniac office naked? 😉

  3. Nathan, Who makes better games? American or Japanese?

  4. Just want to say thanks for not letting the run n’ gun become a relic.

    Did you ever finish Contra Hard Corps?

  5. Eyepatched Monkey

    Is DE scary in real life? Or just a flamboyant Singstar fan with a tough-guy name?

  6. I love than picture of you and your wife!

  7. I’m going to school to be a developer. Is it possible/likely to make a decent living creating indie games? I’d love to be able to do that.

  8. Downloading demo now.

    How hard would it be to make the jump to full XBLA dev?

  9. “My favorite system so far is the Sega Genesis. Still play it all the time!”

    Ok, he’s got his game cred.

  10. Any cow milking secret you could share with the geeks here?

  11. I saw a pic of him on CAG, he looks like a big ass cop who cant say no to doughnuts.

    Not really mean-looking, though.

  12. Great interview.

  13. I just want to say please make a WOC 2!

  14. Good question!

  15. Did you do everything programing and game art?

    If so, pat yourself on the back for me.

  16. What other indie games impress you?

  17. Great game, I needs some points now!

  18. Right now I’m part of a 40+ development team. When in a design meeting, there’s quiet talk of how being independent is worlds better.

    Since you’ve seen both sides, is the grass really greener?

  19. 40 levels? Why did you cut back so much? WOC could have been epic!

  20. Haha… nice one… well I’ve been there through all hours of the day and night, and no, he’s always had his clothes on. And he’s a sharp dresser too.

  21. Killroy–I think it’s changing. Nothing can take away all those amazing memories of playing crazy japanese games in my youth. But American companies are really moving forward in game design, so they might be “winning” now for me.
    Or at least even. I love quirky games, I just want more awesome, crazy monster games from japan.
    No More Heroes was very cool (no real monsters, though). And Katamari Damacy and many more. Hmm… I’ll probably just keeping thinking about that one…

  22. Definitely! Love it. Finished several of the endings. Still not all of them. The ‘crazy’ three level ending of CHC (find it in the trash dump level) inspired the ‘crazy’ hidden level in WoC.

  23. Thanks Stella!
    We were at the ‘Stinking Rose’ in LA at the time. We love it! Keeps away the vampires.

  24. Vance: I would love to make a living like that too 🙂

    We still don’t know any sales data yet from MS so we don’t know how we’re doing. But WoC has been in the top ten for a while, so hopefully we’re doing okay.
    And if Braid is any indication–and he’s sold 100,000+ copies of games, yes, I think you can do it!

  25. I think it would require more work than I’m interested in doing. Basically, there’s a ‘certification’ process that some friends of mine says takes months to get through and is very difficult. I also didn’t care to support leaderboards in WoC, so that worked out pretty well.
    Obviously it’s XBLA games get made all the time, but I just didn’t want to deal with the extra staff for that. Not yet at least.

  26. Thank you!
    I did all the “game” programming. XNA handled the low level stuff.
    I did most of the art too–I did get some extra help near the end of the project when it got too close for comfort.
    We wanted to hit “launch” for NXE on the 360 and the extra help got us there.

  27. Well, I don’t really qualify games by if they’re “indie” or not–I just don’t always know if it was a big team or not.
    I like “Carneyvale Showtime” on Community Games. They did a great job. I think everyone should at least give the demo a try.

    I’ve been playing a lot of Omega Five on XBLA also.
    And Link’s Crossbow Training, but I guess I do know that’s not too indie. Heh heh.

  28. Basically MS hasn’t released sales data yet for us. They say by March. Regardless, I don’t think we’ll be millionaires, but I do hope we’re sustainable. That would rock. That means I get to keep making crazy games like WoC–at least for a little while.

    But if there were only small teams, I don’t think Spore, or Fallout 3, or Resistance: Fall of Man, or GTA4, or Fable 2, etc would get made. And honestly I can enjoy those games too. It’s great fun to get lost in big fantasy worlds that those games can create.

    But as for the job side of things.. the development… this is way better. The only problem is–working from home you don’t get the same camaraderie because your buds are nearby. If I can fix that, it’d be the best of both worlds.

    Good luck with your big project! I hope we all enjoy playing it some day.

  29. No kidding! I wish I could have made it. But it would have taken so long, I might have died or gone crazy before I got it all done.

  30. He appeared mostly humanoid to me… mostly.

  31. Thanks! It won’t be next, but maybe some time in the distant future.

  32. Ha! Definitely let the pumping machine do the work. No need to do it by hand.

  33. Thanks for answering the questions. Let me tell us, I will always support devs to make the time to listen to gamers.

  34. Wow, programming and art. I am barely decent at either.

    Where these skills developed over time, or are you gifted?

  35. Haha, I don’t even like donuts! Popcorn is my vice. I can’t watch a movie without it.

    But I am a not so lean, mean, game-reviewing machine!

  36. Hey another LCT fan! That’s one of my favorite light-gun style games, after the Point Blank series.

    I didn’t expect the title to have any depth. The combos, and ‘grenade’ function have kept me busy for hours.

  37. Why did you leave Insomniac? Isn’t it one of the best places to work, according to some survey?

  38. How long did the entire game take to put together?

  39. A good read but I probably need to play WoC before I really digest this.

    I wish MS would hurry up and fix my 360.

  40. Besides seeing cows as a kid, what other inspirations were there for the game?

  41. How about a Game of the Year pick, and remember you cant pick your own game!

  42. Do you have a favorite game designer?

  43. As a developer how many hours a day do you work?

    What’s your educational background?

  44. What weapons did you design for the Ratchet series?

    BTW- Hey, isn’t Desert a huge Insomniac fanboy?

  45. I need to get one of these. If you know that I mean!

  46. Besides run and guns, what’s your next favorite type of game?

  47. Along with God, I’m told both sides of my family blessed me with some inherit art ability. I ended up getting a minors in Art and Computer Science and Math. Physics was my major and I still use it some in game dev. Basically just lots of practice for everything helps a lot!

  48. It is truly an amazing place to work. I was there the years they won those awards. It’s a blast.

    But why do kids move out of their parents houses? When its a good, nurturing environment it can be tough to leave, but the kids still need to move on.

    I’ve had plans for doing this for many years–it finally seemed like the right time.

  49. It took about 4 months to write the tools for it in XNA (object, animation, and level editors). The rest of the game took a little over 8 months.

    But prior to all that, I’d been working on designs on paper for about a year.

  50. I’m always inspired by nature. Whether it’s the visual layouts, patterns, motions (like ferns, clouds, water, crystals), or the its the intelligence of things (like ants, monkeys, birds), or its the visual designs (like a mantis shrimp or a pitcher plant).

    I looked through lots of internet photos of the jungle, and trees, and various creatures as I did the art.

  51. Oh no! I almost took last year off in terms of gaming. I mean I definitely played a some, but not a lot.

    Shew… for games of 2008 I actually played, I’d have to say No More Heroes. It’s not my favorite game ever, but it was wild enough to really stand out for me.

  52. Everybody that makes Treasure awesome are my favorites.

    Single person… suda 51 is really entertaining.

    And just to pat my friend on the back, Steve Wik is amazing too. He’s the brain’s behind the POSTAL franchise, and is a very funny writer.

  53. It varies. A not-too-bad day is from 10am to 9pm with food and family breaks.

    I worked for about 6 months (out of the full year) on WoC from about 10am till 1am. That was usually 6-7 days a week. That was rough, but I really wanted the game to be good.

    I have a Bachelors of Arts in Physics, but I’ve worked with plenty of smart programmers who’ve only finished high school.

  54. I love, love, love shoot’em ups. Love em. But let me clarify, I like more ‘non-abstract’ ones than anything. So while Geometry Wars and Everyday Shooter are nice, they’re not really my cup of tea.

    R-Type, Gradius, Gaiares, X-Multiply, Thunder Force, Pulstar, Lords of Thunder, Space Megaforce, all those sorts… the recent Omega Five. Those are my sort of shooters.

    I have a decent collection of shooters across 15 or so consoles. And now with the Wii VC I’ve been buying even more I missed over the years!

  55. I actually never designed any R&C weapons.
    But I did design the weapons for Resistance: Fall of Man. I was really happy to help shape a new franchise, especially on a brand new console like the PS3.

    For R&C Future, I programmed the boss enemies. And for RC3 and RD I just did some special effects.

  56. I love these dev Q&A’s. Please have more of them!

  57. That makes sense. Thanks for the reply.

  58. Wow, I didn’t know it took that long. But the results were worth it. Thank you.

  59. Great interview. Nathan, you sound like a great guy.

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  61. Great interview
    Thanks for sharing