Developer Speak: Mike Oliphant – No Static Software

I am going to be honest with you: until five days ago, I had never heard of No Static Software.

Then I played Block Zombies.

Immediately after that, I set out on a quest to find the creators. The quest didn’t last long; all I had to do was open twitter.

Block Zombie was tangled up in a messy rating abuse situation, but after a few tweets, followed by a few e-mails, we were all set to go! Tilt your head back so that your bifocals correctly bring your screen into focus and enjoy:

DNF: Can you give us a brief background of No Static Software?

MIKE: No Static Software is a one-person game studio. I do all of the programming, game design, art, music and audio engineering. I’m better at some areas than others, but I enjoy it all.

I’ve been writing software since the days of the first personal computers, but it is only in the last several years that I have been making games. My first game, Tunescape, came out on Xbox LIVE Indie games in April, 2010. Block Zombies is my fourth game on the service.

DNF: Block Zombies just hit Xbox Independent games, tell us about it.

MIKE: Block Zombies is pretty much explained by the title. The “Block” part comes from the art style. I have my own home-grown graphics engine that is based on all of the models being built from little 3D cubes. The nice thing about this is that it allows me to spectacularly explode models into their cubed bits.

I’ve been playing with this style for a while now. I originally wanted to make a Zelda-like RPG — something like 3D Dot Game Heroes (which I loved the look of, but found the gameplay lacking). I still want to make a game like that, but the scope is currently too large for me. Block Zombies came about because I wanted to get a game made using my graphics engine — something with a well-defined scope that I could finish and released in a reasonable amount of time.

I think it turned out pretty well. The game is a natural fit for the graphical style. The goal was to create a light-hearted little game that was fun to play, and I think I’ve done that.

DNF: Block Zombies was recently the target of rating abuse, can you tell us what happened?

MIKE: Sure. As I expect most Xbox indie developers do, I kept a pretty close eye on how my game was doing after it came out. I was very pleased that it was being well received, and that this was reflected in its high rating on the marketplace. Over the first three days after release, it hovered between a 4.25 star and 4.5 star rating – putting it in the top 20 most highly rated games on the service.

On the fourth day after release, I saw a sudden burst of ratings in a short period of time – about 20 ratings in around an hour. To put this in perspective, I only had 70 ratings total in the previous days. I’ve only had 25 ratings in the three days since.

Getting ratings is normally a good thing, but these ratings were overwhelmingly low. In the course of an hour, the game dropped from a 4.25 star rating to 3.5. The only way this is mathematically possible is if virtually all of the 20 ratings during that short time period were 1-star ratings.

DNF: How widespread is this issue?

MIKE: Pretty wide-spread, I think, although what happened to me was a pretty blatant case. I’m guessing that most developers who have had a game get near the top of the highly rated list have experienced it. I had the same thing happen with my last game, although to a lesser extent.

DNF: What do you think Microsoft could do to protect independent games from this kind of abuse?

MIKE: It is a tough problem to solve. To their credit, Microsoft took action a while back and restricted ratings on the marketplace website to users with LIVE Gold accounts. The problem used to be worse, but it clearly still persists.

DNF: Tell us about the other games you have produced.

MIKE: They have all been pretty different from each other. My first game was a music game called Tunescape. It has gameplay generated by the soundtrack – you fly around planets collecting “tune fragments” that pulsate out in rhythm with the music.

My second game was Avatar Pinball. I know everyone shudders when a game has “Avatar” in the the title, but I like to think this was one of the better ones. I’ve always wanted to make a pinball game. This one is a bit zany – it uses ragdoll physics to turn your avatar into the ball in a pinball machine.

My last game, Kung Fu FIGHT!, was a hardcore side-scrolling run/jump/fight fest. Very fast-paced and difficult. I think of the gameplay as being kind of a cross between Canabalt and the old-school arcade game Kung Fu Master.

DNF: What does the future hold for No Static Software?

MIKE: More games on more platforms. I have more ideas for games using my blocky graphics engine. I’m also continuing to do 2D games – they have the advantage of being easier to port to mobile platforms. I have already released a version of Kung Fu FIGHT! for Windows Phone, and hope to bring it to Android and iOS at some point. My next 2D game is a little adventure game – very different from anything I’ve made so far.

DNF: The graphic depiction of zombie violence in Block Zombies is borderline photorealistic. Do you fear a backlash from the PTA and anti-zombie-violence groups?

MIKE: Not really, and I think this is one of the reasons that zombie games are so popular. Using zombies allows you to make a game where the core gameplay mechanic is inherently violent, but also clearly light-hearted and cartoony. In the case of Block Zombies, the graphical style reinforces this – it is just meant to be a bit of good fun.

DNF: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

MIKE: You’re welcome – my pleasure!

I would like to thank Mike again for bringing some awesome to the interview table. Also, thanks for Block Zombies! I know that the independent game scene is rough, but let’s not have to hear any more stories about this kind of thing.

I personally think that you should only be allowed to rate an independent game AFTER you purchase it. That way, if you really want to drive the rating into the ground, the developer gets paid first.

Now, let’s all get together and give Block Zombies the good rating it deserves. Mobilize, Did Not Finish readers! By the end of the day, we can have the rating up by two whole reviews.

( links- TunescapeAvatar PinballKung Fu Fight Block Zombies– )

About Donald Conrad

Donald Conrad is an avid father and a dedicated gamer -- or maybe that's the other way around. He loves his games, and he loves his family, and he's pretty sure he loves sleep, even if he doesn't remember what it was like. Follow his life confusion on Twitter @ConManEd