What are your backgrounds and how did you become a member of the Red Ruckus team?

Brian: My first education was an economics course in Ballyfermot, so I have a basic business understanding. Then I went to an animation course in Ballyfermot and then I got into Dún Laoghaire and I’ve been there 4 years doing animation. Angus, James and I went to the first Dare to be Digital event in The Digital Hub …
Andy: … and a friend of Brian was in our course and she said that they were looking for people.

How long did it take to get the team together?

Andy: Months (laughs). But once we knew they were looking for people, we got together pretty quickly.
James: I am also into animation in Dún Laoghaire. I actually joined the team later than Angus and Brian; I didn’t go to the first few meetings in The Digital Hub. There was actually somebody else on the team, but he dropped out … and I filled in. I’ve been on the team for about a month.
Angus: I am in animation as well and before that I did some fine art … and I am a founding member of Red Ruckus.
Shane: I’ve been studying Computer Applications in DCU for the last four years. I will hopefully graduate in a couple of weeks. I joined the team together with Andy.
Andy: I’ve been hanging around with Shane for four years and we heard that the lads were looking for … expert programmers and we jumped at the opportunity to go on a holiday in Abertay – well, not a holiday (laughs). Everyone who likes computers obviously likes games, plays games and you always think that you could make one. So now we’ll see how easy or how difficult it is … how possible it is.

From left to right: Shane Culliton, James Murphy, Brian Murray, Andy Rohan and Angus Lynn (Photograph by Julian Kücklich)

Could you briefly describe the application process?

Brian: First you have to fill out an online application form, outlining your idea. Then you go for an interview … and then you win, obviously.
Shane: We did a Powerpoint presentation…
Brian: …and we did a lot of research. We’re used to doing that, because we have to make short films during the year.
James: Concept art.
Brian: In DLIADT, when you hand in your film, you have to hand in separate folders with your research, your concept art, etc. That was an advantage.
Andy: When we went to the interview, the lads had done up folders with artwork and everything in it. We were the only group that had anything like that. Pictures, characters …
Brian: … and a couple of 3D Max models.

Shane and Andy, what was your role during this early stage of the project?

Andy: We had to do some research, because we had never done a game before. We’re making the game for the Xbox … so, we had to go and find out ourselves and teach ourselves how to do it.
Shane: We did some tutorials on the web, tried to find out what kind of languages we would be using.

Did you find a lot of information on that?

Shane: Not really. In order to get the Xbox Development Kit you have to be a registered developer, so it was pretty difficult to get that information.
Andy: We had a look at some DirectX tutorials, however, just to get a grounding.
Brian: We broke the presentation up in two parts: we started off with the creative stuff, the concept art, and then Shane and Andy took over when it got to the programming. Because we don’t have a clue about programming.

Why did you decide to develop the game for the Xbox?

Brian: We knew it was going to be for a console, because of the controls, etc.
Shane: Then it was a tossup between the Xbox and the PlayStation. And we just found more information on the Xbox. And it should be easier to upload stuff on the Xbox, because it’s basically just like a PC …
James: … and we already own a few Xboxes.
Brian: Also, there’s hundreds and hundreds of games coming out for the PlayStation and lower-title games just get smothered by AAA-titles. There’s less competition on the Xbox and people have more time to focus on one game.

So, the business aspect seems to be pretty important?

Brian: The marketability of our game was actually a very important aspect. The jury wanted to see what kind of demographic the game was targeted at.

Who is your target audience?

Brian: Originally, 8- to 35-yr.-olds, but I’d say it’s actually a bit older than 8. Kind of like Ico: stylized, but in an artistic way. And we would like to bring in elements from Deus Ex and DX: Invisible War – the way you can either do the missions by stealth or brute force.
James: In Red Ruckus, you could either burst in the door as a gorilla, or climb up on the roof and go through an air vent.

Let’s talk about the game now. Could you briefly outline the concept?

Brian: Angus came up with the idea originally. Stylistically, the game is like a 1950s B-movie. It’s set on a college campus and the game casts you as Charles, a lab assistant, whose professor does experiments on him. The professor is an undercover spy from Russia who wants to create super-humans to help Russia to dominate the world. The experiment goes wrong, of course, and Charles is turned into a monkey. The professor realizes that his research is flawed, so he has to ‘borrow’ from the other professors on the campus, and Charles has to help him, because he wants to become human again.
Andy: You start off as a spider monkey and the further you advance in the game, you move up the evolutionary tree. You’ll be able to turn into a gorilla or something, and depending on what you think is best, you could either approach a problem as this spider monkey who is very nimble or you can change into a big gorilla and use your power. There’ll be positives and negatives for each species. There will be loads of different monkeys when the game is finished.

Did the game have a characteristic visual style from the beginning?

Angus: We wanted to make it look like a 1950s B-movie, which is probably something that will appeal to older gamers, whereas the monkey aspect will rather appeal to younger gamers.
James: We focused more on the storyline and the sense of humour.

Did you do a lot of research?

James: We watched a lot of B-movies – the dodgy flying saucers and the cheesy robot designs.
Brian: Dr Strangelove was another important source of inspiration. We also looked at tin toys and 1950s advertising and art. We were interested in the kind of design that they thought looked futuristic at that time.

Is Red Ruckus similar to the games you enjoy playing yourselves?

Andy: Hopefully, it will be a game that we all enjoy playing. Otherwise there’s no point in doing it. You want to be proud of what you achieve in the end.
James: It is the kind of game I would play anyway, because I like games with replay value like Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. I also like RPGs, in which you can choose which way you play the game. Platform games like Jak and Dexter and Ratchet & Clank and stealth games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid were also an important influence.
Angus: We also want Red Ruckus to have the kind of freedom you have in games like Grand Theft Auto. You can either just explore the environment or follow the plot.

What do you think convinced the jury about your game?

Brian: I think it was important that we gelled as a team. It was important to show them that we could work together. And I think we’re pretty much at ease with each other and we don’t take criticism personally. Obviously, you are going to work better when you’re working with people you like.
Andy: And of course it is a great idea for a game. It’s original and it’s different.
Brian: We had a lot of visual material, like characters and a comic-strip storyboard for the first level.

That sounds like quite a lot of work…

Brian: In man-hours or in monkey-hours? (laughs) Actually, the majority of the artwork was done very late. But we had agreed on a visual style early on, so it looked very coherent when we put it all together. We also printed out three copies of the art book and six copies of the level design to hand out.

Were you able to use any of the skills you acquired in college in the design process?

Andy: We didn’t learn anything about games in our course.
Shane: Knowing languages like C++ was useful, though. We’ve been taught to learn a language quickly, which is useful as well.
Brian:We studied 3D animation in DLIADT, so we were familiar with 3D Max.
James: You learn to do all kinds of different kinds of animation … Flash and 3D Max as well as hand-drawn animation.
Brian: We focused on 3D Max, because we knew we wanted to work in the games industry. I wouldn’t want to make a career out of Flash animation.

What kinds of tools and what kind of game engine are you going to use?

Andy: We had to put down on the application form what kind of software we would be using … so, we put down an Xbox development kit. We are going to use Microsoft Visual Studio as well.
Shane: We still haven’t looked at the pros and cons of writing your own game engine vs. using an existing one. We’ll look into that and decide then.
Brian: We only have ten weeks, though.
Andy: But we hope that we can do some research before that.

Ten weeks development time seems awfully short…

Brian: Yes, but it’s kind of a luxury to be able to focus on one thing for an extended period of time. In college, we usually have 5 or 6 projects at the same time. It’s going to be fun.
Shane: It is a great opportunity to be able to make your own computer game.

Did the marketability of the game influence the game design at all?

James: We toned down some of the jokes that weren’t really suitable for younger audiences …
Brian: … and we kept the visual style less stylized than we had planned originally, because it is supposed to appeal to young players as well.

What did you learn about game design so far?

Andy: It definitely was a steep learning curve for us (the programmers), because we didn’t have any idea how to make a game.
Shane: We also learned something from the interview, because the members of the jury were actually people who knew what they were talking about. For example, they told us that developing one level rather than three was more realistic given the short timeframe. And they gave us a lot of positive feedback…

What will be the main challenges you’ll be facing when you go to Abertay?

Shane: Getting something going at all… (laughs)
Brian:I think the main challenge is to combine the 3D Max models and the animation cycles with the programming. Once we figure that out, we should be fine.
Shane: I also think the integration between the code and the artwork could be the main obstacle.

Is there a little bit of a cultural divide between the artists and the programmers?

Andy: Hopefully not. But it’s such a great opportunity that we have to make the most of it. We’re all going to have to learn pretty quickly and that is for our own good.
Shane: I think the idea that we have is good enough to win the competition.

Thank you very much and good luck in Abertay.

More info: www.daretobedigital.ie

Author’s Bio: Julian Kücklich is a PhD student in DCU’s School of Communications. Personal Blog: http://particlestream.motime.com/http://particlestream.motime.com/