It's no secret that we're huge fans of Jay 'Murudai' Watts' Solar 2 here at Dealspwn, so we thought we'd have a chat with the man himself on the state of indie gaming, his experience developing for Microsoft's Xbox Live service, and of course his seminal sandbox series itself.
Dealspwn: We realise how busy you must be following the release of Solar 2, and would like to thank you in advance for making the time to answer a few questions, it's very much appreciated. With that in mind, lets get straight down to business! What were the biggest technical challenges you faced when developing Solar 2?
Jay: None really, the game wasn't very technical at all. I guess it would be making sure it ran on as many computers as possible, as well as keeping the AI very efficient, even with hundreds of them on screen at once.
Dealspwn: What did you learn from the original Solar that helped with the development of Solar 2?
Jay: The original Solar was a development of the concept of a sandbox universe where you play as stars into a fun, playable game. Solar 1 laid the gameplay framework that was very popular, so Solar 2 was mainly expanding on that original idea and polishing it to perfection.
Dealspwn: Did you expect the reception to Solar 2 to be as overwhelmingly positive as it was?
Jay: Sort of, as Solar 1 was very well received as well. There have been a few complaints with Solar 2, with the difficult missions and shallow sandbox, but most people really love the game, which is great!
Dealspwn: Was there anything you were forced to leave out that you would've liked to have included?
Jay: I didn't put in leaderboards and challenge missions because I didn't think it would be worth trying to cheater-proof the system. Making new content would have been a better use of my time. I would have liked it to be in there, but it's just too hard to make it cheater-proof, and without that it ruins it for everyone. There's no point.
Dealspwn: And what aspect of Solar 2 are you most proud of?
Jay: I'm proud of how balanced and fun the sandbox is. I spent a lot of work refining it and balancing it, and it's all come together extremely well; very happy with how that turned out.
Dealspwn: With the game being released on both XBLIG and Steam, did you face any problems specific to either platform?
Jay: The lack of keyboards and the aging Xbox 360 hardware were a bit tricky, and updating the Xbox version is a huge pain to do. PC was tricky to make the game work on all resolutions and all systems, but was otherwise much simpler than the XBLIG version.
Dealspwn: And were you presented with any opportunities? Support from either party perhaps? Getting a front page ad on Steam can't have hurt...
Jay: Solar 2 was on the front page of Steam for over a week after release! Steam really like the game and they plan to do more promotions with it, which is great.
Dealspwn: Are Microsoft doing everything it can to promote the Indie market it claims to support?
Jay: Microsoft are doing a satisfactory job. The fact that XBLIG exists at all, and continues to exist after two and a half years is testament to their support. They can't support it too much without angering XBLA publishers, but when XBLIG developers take the initiative (such as the Winter Uprising promotion) they get behind it, which is great to see.
Dealspwn: You seem entirely capable of developing top-notch games on your own, but have you ever thought of working as part of a team? Again, what problems and opportunities could that conceivably bring to the table?
Jay: My graphical skills are a bit limited so it's likely in the future I'll work with an artist in developing my games. Unless of course I think of another amazing idea like Solar 2 where I can do the graphics myself, but we'll see I guess. As long as I keep any team really small and focused and full of really dedicated people like me I think we'll be able to do great things!
Dealspwn: How influential will indie games be in the coming months? Is there enough innovation around for them to stand alongside triple A releases?
Jay: The most innovative indie games aren't made very accessible or playable, so I think that's a big hurdle for independent developers to overcome. Solar 2 is a fairly original game (if I say so myself) and I wanted that originality to be wrapped in a very simple and easy to play game, and I think I've done that. I think that extra work to make the innovation playable too has helped it be a success, and if more indies are willing to put in that kind of work I think they'll do really well.
Dealspwn: How, and when, did designing and programming games become such a huge part of your life? Did you study it, or were you self-taught?
Jay: Completely self-taught. I've never done any education in game development or even programming. It became a huge part of my life a few years ago during my University degree in Genetic Engineering that I was doing, and I picked up Flash games on the side and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was doing so well that once I graduated I decided to make games full-time, and that seems to have paid off for me!
Dealspwn: Is there another potential 'Indie Game of the Week' in the pipeline? We won't tell anyone, we promise...
Jay: Nah, all my creative juices have been poured into Solar 2 and I haven't been thinking about my next game at all. I have a few vague ideas which I may experiment with, but we'll see how I go; it'll be a while before I announce anything though.
Dealspwn: Anything you want to say to the readers at Dealspwn?
Jay: Go try out Solar 2! It has a free demo on both XBLIG and Steam and you just might enjoy it!