Carrum – Developer Interview

Q : For anyone who hasn’t played Carrum yet, please describe the game.

Carrum’s a nice, simple game. If you’ve played pool, you get the hang of Carrum really quickly. You have a square board with a pocket in each corner and wooden sides. On the board are 19 round, wooden pieces called Carrummen, 8 of which are white, 8 black, and one red. You have to pot all the men of your colour, and the red “queen” before your opponent. You pot the men using a plastic “striker” which is kind of like the cueball in pool. In the “real” game you literally flick your striker from your baseline on the board to take your shot. Spending hours flicking your Xbox controller is a bit of a fool’s errand, so we’ve taken a small liberty with the controls in the game. You position your striker, then move an aiming guide around the board. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, and even though I’ve played loads during writing and testing, I can only usually pot 3 or 4 in a row. You can play the game in “frames”, where the queen is potted last to win, or the traditional “points” version of the game. In points play you get 1 point for each of your opponent’s men left on the board when you’ve cleared all yours off. In this kind of game, you can pot the queen after your first man, and if you then pot another man in your next shot and win the frame, you get an extra 3 points. Most people stick to frames play, but points play is really great with 4 players. You have to score 23 points to win this kind of game, and it normally takes 4 or 5 frames to play. That’s the purists game!

Q : What inspired you to write Carrum?

Firstly, it’s a great game, and could have been invented for network games. Second, the gameplay is nice and linear, the rules are easy to code for, and in terms of a pure simulation the physics are simple. For me, this all meant that I could really focus on the general quality of the game because once you’ve got the engine, you just dress it up as well as you can. I’m definitely a programmer more than a designer, so it was good to focus on the aesthetics rather than the code. A nice challenge.

Q : Did you have any help with creating Carrum?

My wife’s an illustrator and graphic designer, so all the table designs, the room you play in, the strikers and so on were all designed by her. She’s really good at it – I could say to her “we need another board design” and I’d have it in high resolution about half an hour later, fully textured, the right size and file format…really saved a lot of time, because I would have spent hours making rubbish! She’s also been Tester In Chief, at least for the local and AI gameplay. She’s a bit reluctant to play network games, having heard me screaming at people when I crash in Forza net games!

Q : How long did Carrum take to develop?

I started it just before Christmas 2008. At the time I was working on another, much larger game and wanted to take a break from it. Chatting to some friends one night, we began talking about getting together for a few “real” games of Carrum, and I thought “hell, I could get that done in about a month!” Shows what I know about the dev cycle!

Q : Have you ever played a non-electronic version of Carrum?

Plenty. I actually made my own “real” Carrum board last summer in Sweden while I was on Honeymoon! It really is a great game, and it’s massively popular in Asia. It’s gaining popularity in Europe, and some parts of the US. I played as many games as I could before starting the meat of the code.

Q : Are you a big gamer? If so what games do you normally play.

I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore gamer at all. I have a very exclusive list of favourite games and tend to stick to them. Crackdown’s my all-time top Xbox 360 title – it’s funny, it’s a challenge, and it’s compelling. And it’s a top bit of code. I buy more LIVE Arcade games and Community Games at the moment, partly to keep an eye on the competition, but there are some cracking cheap games coming up from Community Games. I’m really looking forward to a game called Johnny Crush – it’s a proper blast.

Q : Looking in the playtest queue, you have another game in the pipeline. Where do you find the time?

Hahah, I quit sleeping a couple of years ago ;0) I am a pretty busy guy generally. I’m studying for a degree in astrophysics at the University of Kent, and I spend a lot of time doing astronomy at home too. Not to mention a wife, daughter and two cats competing for my time! To be honest I don’t know where I find the time – I’m really lucky that everything I do is something I enjoy. I think that’s where the energy comes from!

Q : Do you want to mention anything about your other game in playtest, or are you planning to keep that under your hat for the time being?

Well, it’s got a way to go before it’s the game I want it to be. I started writing it almost a year ago, and it sort of got out of control. Or rather, I started losing focus. It’s a huge game, a space combat and trading game with police, pirates, guided missiles, mining droids, all kinds of nonsense. The network play is going to be HUGE and that’s the next part I need to write. I’ll start work on it seriously when my end-of-year exams are finished.

Q : Are you a professional developer, or just a hobbyist?

Hobbyist at the moment. My first “proper” job was as a programmer though, writing a very boring application for a construction company. And I used to write lots of things for the Commodore 64 and Amiga in my flaming youth.

Q : Are you in this for the money, the glory, the love of development or something else?

Well, it is cool in a geeky way I think. The feeling when you get something working right, especially if it’s a big deal like adding network play or some amazing 3D effect, is amazing. Just knowing you can do something well enough for people to enjoy it is really satisfying too. It’s kind of like art that way – once you get enough skill to be able to express yourself, the sky’s the limit.

Q : How did you get into games development?

I’ve written bits and bobs for years. I did a very playable Tetris clone for the C64 when I was about 15, and when I heard about XNA I thought I’d see if I could still do it.

Q : What do you think of Microsoft’s idea of creating XBLCG?

It’s fantastic isn’t it? Really brave. It’s a bit sad that there aren’t more people singing their praises over this. Sony and Nintendo wouldn’t doit in a million years, not for the price Microsoft are. When you think of how people regard Microsoft and their attitude, you just wouldn’t have expected something like this. They’ve got some real talent devoted to the project who do a far better job than I could, and they’re always willing to help. Microsoft spent millions on the Xbox brand, and to let us all loose on it like this is visionary of them. We just need to make sure we repay their faith and write the best games we can.

Q : What do you think of the XBLCG community itself?

There are some really talented guys and girls onboard. The debates get lively – especially the non-technical ones – but there’s good behaviour compared to a lot of forums. I think there are some problems to get ironed out and since the tools are open to everyone the quality of the games can be a bit hit and miss. Talking to friends, they feel that the overall quality could be better, but some real stand-out games have been released and done reasonably well. We’re in a really good position I think, because people want nice little fun games which are as cheap as chips – LIVE Arcade proves that – and Community Games is a good place to be, especially while people are wanting to save the pennies. 400 MS points for a really fun game? I’ll have 10 of those over a £40 disk game any day.