Xbox Live Developer Interview: Iron Galaxy Studios, makers of Ms. Splosion Man (WP) and Wreckateer

It’s time for another installment of Windows Phone Central’s Xbox Live Developer Interview series! We jumped at the opportunity to speak with Chicago-based Iron Galaxy Studios, developers of the upcoming Ms. Splosion Man for Windows Phone (based on Twisted Pixel's XBLA hit), Wreckateer for Xbox Live Arcade, and many other fine titles. CEO Dave Lang fills us in on the challenges of developing fighting games, working with the Kinect, bringing the same game to both Windows Phone and iOS, and much more.

Head past the break for our lengthiest interview yet, filled with brilliant concept art and exclusive Ms. Splosion Man screens!

Please tell us about yourself and what you do at Iron Galaxy.

Wreckateer Concept Art

I’m the CEO, which means I mostly pay a lot bills. But in-between scouring the streets looking for random coins people have dropped, I get to work on games some too, so that’s cool. Before this I’ve worked at a lot of various places like Midway and Microsoft, where I was a Technical Director and Programmer.

Care to fill us in on how the studio came about?

In late 2008 I was at Midway, and that was a rough time to be working there.  It was pretty clear something drastic (read: bankruptcy) was going to happen, but this was before Warner Brothers stepped in and salvaged what parts of the company they could. At that point I decided to punch out and start up my own thing. At first we were going to solely do ‘gun for hire’-type engineering stuff, but over time we’ve evolved into a fully operational game studio.

Before we start talking about games, let’s get geeky. Have you caught The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters yet? Either way, how do you feel about Sony’s decision to reboot the film franchise and start from scratch?

I haven’t seen it yet but I do want to hit it while it’s still in theaters.  I don’t get too bent out of shape about ‘reboots’ or whatever, even ones that seemingly just got rebooted, so long as the product is awesome. I’m more in it for the ‘here and now’ entertainment value than I worry about any lasting legacy or something along those lines.

Nice attitude! I sure loved the new film. Now then, what are some of your favorite videogames, past and present?

Some of my favorites of all time:  XCOM UFO Defense, Halo Combat Evolved, Shadow of the Colossus, the Baldur’s Gate series, and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike. Currently loving: Skyrim and Trials Evolution.

Moving on to Iron Galaxy’s projects, you guys handled Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online (XBLA and PSN) for Capcom. Given the precision involved in developing a fighting game and how finicky the fighting game community is, was developing and supporting Third Strike more trouble than anticipated?

We knew it was an extremely beloved title, but yes, we had no idea how each and every aspect of that game is revered by its fans. It’s still my personal favorite project we’ve worked on, and I love getting to talk 3rd Strike any chance I get. Capcom also just announced Marvel vs. Capcom: Origins that we’re very proud and excited about. A lot of what we learned from 3rd Strike went into the development of that game.

Ah, now that’s a game I’m excited about. First off, how did you select the games for inclusion in Marvel vs. Capcom: Origins? Some folks are surprised the titles aren’t chronological sequels.

Ms. Sposion Man WP Screenshot

Capcom picked the games, but I agree fully with their choices. For openers, we had to restrict ourselves to two games for financial reasons (it would be too costly to port more games and keep the project at downloadable prices). I've read a lot of people asking for X-Men: Children of the Atom, but the spirit of this package is to give people access to the direct predecessors to Marvel vs. Capcom 2 & 3 [the former already available on XBLA, the latter a retail release], and both of our choices make more sense in that regard.

What sort of technical improvements can we expect in Origins?

There’s a ton of little improvements over 3rd Strike, especially online. Our net code is better, and the lobby experience is more intuitive and user-friendly. It should also be easier to find matches against equally skilled players that live close to you.

Stepping away from fighting games, Iron Galaxy is also credited as working on Kinect Adventures, the original Kinect pack-in title. What did you contribute to that game, and what was it like working with the Kinect so early on?

Ms. Sposion Man Concept Art

We helped the Phosphor Games guys ship the ‘Space Pop’ section of that game.  It was their design and concept; we just helped out with a bunch of engineering.  Working on the early Kinect stuff was fun.  It’s not often you get to do something brand new that’s never been done before.

That brings us to Wreckateer, your upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game. How different are the Kinect development tools these days?

The tools are really great, but the big difference now is the catalog of experience we have on the platform (we worked on Matter with Blind Wink too), and our ability to apply that experience to projects like Wreckateer. So much of working on Kinect just boils down to understanding what it does and doesn’t do well, and [then] building games that maximize the awesome stuff.

How did your team come up with Wreckateer’s core concept?

Wreckateer Concept Art

After our work on Kinect Adventures and Matter, Microsoft approached us with the possibility of pitching our own Kinect game. At that point we took a week where everyone in the studio started coming up with ideas on their own. Wreckateer ended up being a few different ideas mashed together; from there we quickly built a simple prototype of an avatar launching blocks at big castles. Once Microsoft saw that I think they understood how cool the game could be - and the rest was history.

Does the game have an actual story tying together all the destruction?

There’s a very loose narrative.  It’s about the King pushing you to rid his Kingdom of Goblins, and your relationship with him.

Works for me. How does Wreckateer’s multiplayer work?

Wreckateer Concept Art

It’s got local competitive multiplayer. Two players alternate shots trying to take down a castle. If you’re familiar with MMOs it’s like each player has their own ‘instance’ of a castle; whomever does the best job wrecking it wins.  You can play through the entire Single Player Campaign in [multiplayer], just battling your friends over the entire game if you’d like.

Are there any multiplayer-oriented Achievements, and can both players earn Achievements simultaneously or only the primary player?

There are no MP specific achievements, and I believe only the primary player can get cheevos but I’m not 100% sure on that.

A general Kinect-related question: a pet peeve of mine and probably anyone who actively plays Kinect games is the sign-in process. Specifically, when one or both players step away from the screen, Kinect games tend to default their profiles to guests, forcing them to go through the tedious sign-in process again before continuing. Is there anything developers can do to prevent the ordeal of repeated sign-ins?

Ms. Sposion Man Concept Art

Yes, we tried to streamline this as much as possible. If you’ve set up your profile for Biometric Detection, you just need to walk up as the primary player and you’re off to the races. For [Wreckateer’s] 2P we have the player select from a list of signed in profiles, so you don’t even need to use the Dashboard UI if you get people signed in before you jump into MP.

Thank goodness.  One last Wreckateer Q: given the popularity of physics-based destruction games on mobile devices, have you thrown around the idea of a Windows Phone companion game?

WP7 would be very difficult given that the game is based on Unreal Engine 3, and there’s no version of UE3 for that platform. I agree it would be awesome though.

Speaking of Windows Phone, how did Iron Galaxy end up working on the mobile versions of Twisted Pixel’s Ms. Splosion Man?

Ms. Sposion Man WP Screenshot

I go way back with the Twisted Pixel guys. We worked together on some Midway games awhile back and they were awesome to work with. Since then, we’ve been trying to find something to work on together for a while now. When they offered up this opportunity we jumped at it.

What differentiates Ms. Splosion Man from other platformers?

I’m sure the Twisted Pixel guys have their own answer for this, but for me it’s about how devious the gameplay can be with such simple controls. Every button ‘splodes, right? That combination of simple but deep gameplay married with the signature Twisted Pixel humor is right up my alley.

And how do those controls work on Windows Phone?

The primary scheme has a ‘left-right’ slider on the left thumb and then just tap anywhere with your right to ‘splode. (‘Sploding works similar to jumping in other platformers and multiple ‘splodes can be chained together to reach greater heights. 'Splodes also attack enemies. –ed.)

Does the titular Ms. Splosion Man still have her voice-overs and one-liners in the small-screen game?

Squeezing the game onto a phone was pretty difficult, and while we had to cut down on some of the variety, she still has a lot of her classic one-liners.

Good to hear. Will the mobile versions feature the same levels as the XBLA game and/or new ones?

I don’t believe we are talking about this yet, sorry.

The Splosion Man games are known for their sense of humor but also their steep challenge. Will the mobile games be a little easier or have some kind of difficulty options?

At its core this is still Ms. Splosion Man, and we retained the difficulty that the fans have come to know and love. It’s true to the console experience.

Ms. Splosion Man is a co-op game on XBLA, but multiplayer Live games are scarce on Windows Phone. Will the WP version have multiplayer features of any sort?

I don’t believe we are talking about this yet.

What about SmartGlass/connectivity features?

Nothing is planned yet but that’s a good idea!

How long has Ms. Splosion Man for Windows Phone been in development? Has it passed certification yet?

Ms. Sposion Man WP Screenshot

We are putting the finishing touches on it now, but no release date has been announced yet.  We’ve been working on it for a long time - about a year now. It was important to everyone that we get this right.

Do you plan to launch all the mobile versions simultaneously?

We haven’t announced this stuff yet, sorry.

You’re bringing Ms. Splosion Man to not only Windows Phone but also iPhone and iPad. How would you compare development across the different platforms?

It’s like developing two separate games. iOS devices support C/C++ and WP7 (until Tango, anyway) uses C# as its primary language so there’s not a lot of sharing going on there (aside from control design, and general lessons learned).  The tools for both platforms are good, but at the end of the day it’s like working on two separate projects.

Looking to the future, is there any chance of porting your fine Scribblenauts Remix to Windows Phone?

Wreckateer Concept Art

You’d have to ask Warner Brothers about that, but as a proud WP7 owner I’d love to have it on there.

Can you tell us anything about developing for Windows Phone 8 versus Windows Phone 7?

The big thing is that WP8 supports C/C++, which will make development a lot more efficient in the future (assuming you’re also doing an iOS version that is). This is a good thing.

Finally, we understand that developing for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 on PC is pretty similar. Does Iron Galaxy have any plans to make games for Microsoft’s upcoming computer and tablet OS?

We do, but nothing we can discuss at this time.

Iron Galaxy’s Wreckateer comes to Xbox Live Arcade on Wednesday, July 25 as part of the Summer of Arcade. We’ll be sure to bring you our impressions once it’s released. Stay tuned for more Ms. Splosion Man Windows Phone news too! If you can't wait, grab the XBLA version here.

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!