Sep 09 2011

NO NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES! Our interview with Zen Studios about their defense of the XBLA.

There are always companies that people like to rail against; be it Mc Donalds, Nike, or in this case Microsoft. A story we often hear from smaller developers is how the XBLA can be kind of huge pain in the ass to deal with thanks to Microsoft’s draconian policies but today we have a happy customer for once. Zen studios a little disturbed by the negativity of its fellow developers, one in particular which caused a bit of twitter gang war between the two studios the other day which you may have read about elsewhere, has reached out to the press via email to tell their story of a game gone right. Well we here at the HUD are all about a happy ending so we had a little tête-à-tête with them yesterday to hear why the folks at Microsoft might not be the devil.


HBHUD: So you’re talking with us today to give us an idea of your experiences developing for the XBLA and the way Microsoft’s supports it. Do you mind giving us a brief run down of the stuff Zen has put out for the service to give our readers an idea of your background?

ZEN: Sure, and thanks for doing this by the way! I guess we are best known for our work in the pinball genre. Our most popular games are Zen Pinball, Marvel Pinball and Pinball FX2. We also made a cool mini golf game, Planet Minigolf. We hope to be branching out to other things soon.

HBHUD: There has definitely been negative things said about the XBLA by other developers however from the sounds of it you have nothing but positive things to say. What did Microsoft do exactly to make it such a good experience?

ZEN: Microsoft really worked with us on a collaborative level, providing ideas to enhance the game from a social standpoint, and they also supported our whole ‘platform’ approach which was something totally new on XBLA. They also helped out quite a bit on the marketing side of things, including us in the Game Feast promotion, putting our game in their PAX booth, and giving us dashboard placements on Marketplace. Their input, ideas and exposure proved to be very valuable resources. It just seemed to us like they really cared about our game and our success, so it’s hard to stomach all the negativity directed towards these people.

HBHUD: On the other end of the scale why do you think other devs may have had such unpleasant experiences when dealing with the service?

ZEN: Not knowing complete details, I am not 100% sure. From what I have heard during panels, podcast and read from other interviews, it seems like sometimes expectation levels for certain things are not managed correctly. It’s really easy for things to get lost in translation in this industry. Things move so fast, development cycles can be torturous, so it’s easy to get emotional and lose track of things. Not sure if that is why certain companies feel jaded by the platform, but it was not like that at all for us.

HBHUD: You also had some things to say about Sony and the whole PSN outage that happened a while back. I know Zen has some experience developing for that platform as well, what struggles/benefits does it bring compared to the XBLA?

ZEN: Mentioning the PSN outage is really a moot point. It was more just to say “hey, why all this Microsoft bashing? If you are going to bash one company about philosophy and theoretical items, then we need to take a look at everything else. There is no perfect platform, they all have issues from time to time, remember THAT?” The truth is, if it were not for the PSN and XBLA (and now others) working so hard at building digital storefronts for us, companies like Zen Studios could not exist. There are always going to be problems, let’s talk about them honestly without getting hurt feelings. It will help all of us in the long run.

HBHUD: You mentioned keeping the “Indie and Poor” image in your email, as a smaller yet lucrative studio yourself why do you think there is such a stigma attached to being both independent and successful?

ZEN: I think things change once you are successful and people know it. It’s an image thing. It’s a great place to be that small company that everyone is rooting for, it can also be really scary! The point is, don’t pull the whole ‘woe is me’ and not expect to hear anything back about it. I am also not trying to bash success. If you are successful, 99% of the time you earned every part of that. Look, we all make games because we love them, the politicking that is going on is just getting annoying (as I write this I am laughing because I am feeding the fire)!

HBHUD: Last but not least and just for the sake of professionalism, is there anything Zen is working on right now you’d like let our audience know about?

ZEN: We have more pinball in the works! Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue will release this fall for PSN and XBLA. Marvel Pinball is going to be in literally every digital storefront known to man. We also have some brand new games totally unrelated to pinball in the works J. And, don’t be surprised to see us to continue working on Planet Minigolf.


Well that’s the interview, we’d like extend a big thanks to Zen Studios’ Mel Kirk for answering our questions and letting us see their point of view. On a less serious note as a huge Ghost Rider fan I’m stoked for Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue; with both it and and Ultimate MvC3 on the way it’s a good time to be a fan of out dated conflagrant super heroes.






















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