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MLG Meets: Matthew Reynolds

May 28th, 2010 by

I recently found a great little title on the Xbox Live Indie service called “Text Zedventure” which I spoke very highly of on Episode 98 of the MLG podcast for its up to date take on an old idea.

After a big of digging, I got in touch with the man behind the text to ask him how he came about creating this Fighting Fantasy style game.

MM – To kick things off, can you tell the readers of MidLife Gamer who you are what you do?

MR – Hi! I’m Matthew Reynolds and I work as a video games reporter for UK entertainment website Digital Spy.

MM – Next up is something dear to every MidLife Gamers heart and something we ask of everyone we meet, what is your favourite beverage and favourite biscuit?

MR – Beverage – tea. Hands down. Biscuit? Chocolate digestives. Or Cadbury’s Gestives, which were essentially the same thing but with chocolate chips thrown in. I tried one by chance ages ago and haven’t seen them again, but I still remember how mindblowing it was. Please let me know if you do spot them in the wild.

MM – For those who haven’t had a chance to look at “Text Zedventure” yet, can you give them an idea as to what the game is?

MR – Text Zedventure is a choose-your-own adventure game where you explore a variety of locations through choices using the Xbox 360 controller. It’s just text and sound, no visuals. You play three separate chapters within the same city, trying to escape and survive after it succumbs to a virus that has infected its residents.

MM – An amount of profits are going to charity, can you let our readers know where that will be going and your reasons behind the choice?

MR – Until May 31, all profits (45p of the 65p each game costs, after Microsoft’s take) go to charity Save The Rhino. After that date, 25% go the charity. The reason for this is I figured the main sales period of the game comes just after release, and such a promotion would hopefully persuade more to pick it up sooner rather than delaying a purchase and then not looking at the game again, thus raising more funds. How well that’ll do, however, remains to be seen. I’ll be releasing data on my website about sales and so on in June, but it’s already sold over 1,000 copies, which is rather excellent.

I’m doing this because I ran the London Marathon earlier this year and this game was my main sponsorship idea. It was released two weeks after the event, rather frustratingly (it was supposed to be done before Christmas!) but the funds are still obviously part of my sponsorship. The reason I picked Save The Rhino in the first place is that I wanted to raise money for an animal charity, and one that would deserve the cash. They run 15 conservation projects around the world with just five full-time staff members, and conserve species in over 126,000 square kilometres in Africa, so I knew every penny would go a long way.

MM – For anyone out there who is interested in making a game for the Xbox 360 Indie platform, can you give them know what is involved and the process you had to follow?

MR – Well for one, I have no programming experience whatsoever – I’m just another one of those annoying press types who wishes he could make games but couldn’t, hence why it was so simple! I had to start from scratch and learn the ins and outs through a variety of tutorials and samples online. The official XNA website has a video series on 2D and 3D games, which give you a vague idea of how things work, and it’s best to find a tutorial close to whatever game type you’re looking at and build it from there. (As I need to go from one panel to the next, I built Text Zedventure from a Game State Management sample.)

If you search using the right terms and look in the right places, you can fill the gaps from tutorials and with enough tinkering it will work. I think having programming experience will help tremendously, but to do something as simple as a choose-your-own adventure, I think I piecing it together like this serves fine. There’s also a real sense of satisfaction knowing that I constructed it without actually taking a course or likewise, especially as wielding together many of the components in the game wasn’t as obvious as it looked. It was a massive challenge, but in the end I absolutely loved doing it.

MM - How helpful was the Xbox 360 Indie community when it game to creating the game?

MR – Very! As per the last question, any gaps or things that wouldn’t work out I pitched to the official XNA forums, and they were always extremely helpful in eliminating why things don’t work and what you’re doing wrong. As long as you go in there with as much information as possible, and don’t ask the most basic questions that are obviously answered elsewhere, then they’ll give you all the help you need. It’s a real great community and I quite honestly wouldn’t have done it without them.

MM – Once your game is made available, what avenues have you taken for promotion?

MR – I’ve mainly pitched it to smaller ‘fan’ websites and indie-only venues. As I work in the press I know it is unlikely to make the big blogs and websites, so I’ve focused my energy on the gamers themselves would are more likely to give it a look. (Although saying this, Gamesradar picked it up by its own accord and gave it a sterling write up, which absolutely made my month.) Twitter is also an invaluable tool, since the #xblig hashtag and retweets acts as a direct channel to users you wouldn’t otherwise have had contact with.

MM – With so many MidLife Gamers growing up with text adventures, which would you say stick out in your mind as some of the greats?

MR – No games come to mind (I remember playing a few growing up but nothing concrete!) but the main inspiration was the Fighting Fantasy series by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, which I pored over after picking up a dozen books on the cheap from a car boot. It also gave me a clear design decision in the game, which was that choices should matter and be permanent where possible. There was always the temptation to go back to your last page and go half way down the other route to see what could have happened, which kind of cheapened that original choice. In the game, if you made a decision you have to stick with it, and have to go through with the end result. I wanted players to really consider certain situations, and care about the outcome.

MM – The zombie apocalypse setting is something we’re seeing a lot more of as of late, was there anything specifically that inspired to story behind Text Zedventure?

MR – It was – at the time of conception (about a year ago – early 2009!) the zombie theme was all the rage and hadn’t quite got stale yet, so that was a factor. The main trigger however was that I was reading Max Brooks’ World War Z at the time, which eventually gave me the idea of individual standalone chapters, as well as an overall pessimism to events that Text Zedventure carries.

MM – Have you any thoughts about bringing Text Zedventure to any other platforms?

MR – I’d like to – PC is a natural choice considering the XNA platform makes for a fairly easy conversation, but whether people would be interested for the effort it would take is something I’ll have to consider. But I’m certainly open to the idea of different platforms.

MM – What is next for Matthew Reynolds, are you planing any future development?

MR – I’d like to develop another game – this was mainly an aside to my press duties, to finally make a game as I wanted to growing up – and the concept can easily be extended. Again, it’s a case if people want it, since it is rather time intensive and at times rather stressful! Ultimately, I would be happy to give it another go if people want to see the concept develop further.

You can check out Matthew Reynolds personal web site here which contains further details on the success of his title and don’t forget to check out his game “Text Zedventure” on Xbox Live Indie Games for 80 MS points.

One Response to “MLG Meets: Matthew Reynolds”
  1. avatar Martyn Hackett says:

    Good follow up on the podcast love for the game, Matt.

    World War Z seems to have a lot to answer for!

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