Interview With Casey Sillito, Developer Of Sector 7-4-9er.

Posted July 9, 2013 by Haris Iqbal in Articles, Features, Interviews, Xbox Live, Xbox Live Arcade


We have something very interesting for you today, an interview that we had conducted with the developer Casey Sillito about his first game, Sector 7-4-9er. If you are unsure of Casey Sillito’s backstory, or the game, be sure to check out my Indie Exposure article, which sums it up nicely. So go ahead, and read that first if you haven’t, then come back here…

Now, one thing I would like to report on before we start, is that the game is unfortunately not performing up to Mr. Casey’s standard. However, by the end, I will let you know why this isn’t necessarily a bad news.

Back? Alright, our interview was conducted through Email, where Mr. Casey was kind enough to answer for us. Here are the questions that were asked and their following responses.


PushStartPlay: Would you like to tell us more about yourself?

Casey Sillito: I think your previous article covered it pretty well. I’m a Canadian developer who was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. With my newfound free time, I took up my childhood hobby of game design and now I’ve decided to see if I can make some money off it. My first commercial game is called Sector 7-4-9er and I’ve just released a patch to address some gameplay issues people have had. It’s a mining game with arcade controls set in space.

PushStartPlay: What inspired you to make the game? 

Casey Sillito: I was inspired by another game called “Miner Dig Deep”, also on XBox Live Indie Games.  It’s a game that relies heavily on this sort of Skinner-box treadmill where you can buy a better pick axe, which lets you dig deeper to where the rocks are harder so you have to buy a better pickaxe, etc.  It was well designed and I enjoyed it, but I thought it might be interesting to make a similar game that had more variety and patterns that the player could become familiar with and opportunities for the player to get better at the game rather than just getting better equipment.  When I did add permanent upgrades, I tried to make ones that gave the player new abilities that had to be used strategically rather than just letting them do the same thing faster.  I was playing around with making a simple physics engine for an Asteroids-style game at the time, so I just went with that for the style.

PushStartPlay: What do you think your strengths and weaknesses were in dealing with the project? 

Casey Sillito: Obviously, having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome(CFS) makes things very difficult. The symptoms of CFS manifest both physically and mentally, and it was very much a matter of working at it in little bits with lots of rest in between. In retrospect, I realise how that really came through in the game. A major mechanic of the game is that you are periodically running out of fuel, so you have to stop to mine some energy crystals for a while. So, it’s about balancing long term goals with short term needs. Its very much an expression of my situation and the things I had to overcome. But I think the game is a lot more fun than actually having CFS!
In terms of strengths, I think tenacity comes in high on the list. Making a game can be a lot of fun, but it’s hard to see it through to the end, especially near the end when you’re dealing with a seemingly never-ending list of little things that need doing. Also I have a tendency to want to learn all kinds of different things, which is a great way to be if you are making a game by yourself and you have to do the design and the coding and the artwork.

PushStartPlay: What is your selling goal for this game, especially considering that the Xbox Live Indie Games don’t get much coverage on Microsoft’s online platform? 

Casey Sillito: I didn’t really have a number in mind.  The project wasn’t really about making money, since I don’t need the money really.  It was more about creating something that was uniquely my own and seeing an idea to completion.  

PushStartPlay: Did someone support you through the development process?

Casey Sillito: My friends were absolutely supportive and always willing to playtest the game and offer feedback.  My parents were just happy I was keeping busy, I think.  But mostly I have to thank the Canadian (and Albertan) Government.  I don’t want this to get too political, but obviously Canada is known (notorious?) for its social programs.  This is often exaggerated as “communism” by some countries, which I can assure you is silly, but if I have to be sick there are few countries that I would rather be sick in.  Working on this game has been enjoyable, but also very stressful.  Thanks to government support programs, I don’t have the added stress of worrying about not being able to pay for food or rent if the game fails.  This has given me a lot of creative freedom and I hope my game stands as an example of what can be accomplished when governments support their less fortunate citizens.

PushStartPlay: As you have said yourself, Sector 7-4-9er supports a very silver age comic style, where did the inspiration come for that? 

Casey Sillito: I think mostly it just fit well within my rather limited artistic ability! I think that’s the trick with a lot of indie games is to find a style that you can do easily, but looks like you did it that way intentionally. So we have a lot of games with pixel graphics or a sketchy look which can look really cool despite being easier to create.

Also, I think the vibrant colors of old comics are a great analog to the colorfulness that we see when we look at classic games. They both existed because of the technical limitations of having a handful of basic colors to choose from. Now we have millions of colors to choose from but, as its been observed many times, designers have a tendency to just use greys and browns, which is kind of ironic.

PushStartPlay: Was the music for your game created by yourself as well? 

Casey Sillito:  No, and this is a mistake I made in the credits! I forget to credit the excellent Kevin Macleod, who has a whole library of fantastic music that he makes available for free commercial use under the creative commons license, which is amazingly generous. I’ve always worried that one day I would fail to mention someone whose work I used under Creative Commons so, of course, I forgot the one who made the greatest contribution to the game. So, I’ll be fixing that in an upcoming patch and I’ve sent an email apology to Mr. Macleod.

Incidentally, if you are getting into indie game development and don’t know what Creative Commons is, take it upon yourself to find out. Also, get a working knowledge of regular copyright. The things you are learning from your friends or the people who come to your school to talk about it are probably not entirely true. “Free Culture” by Lawrence Lessig is a great book on the topic.

PushStartPlay: What are your favourite retro games? 

Casey Sillito:  Well, Asteroids, and games like it have always intrigued me. I think the way the ships control makes those game more interesting than more recent games with simpler controls, so I put a ship like that in my game. I added the Saucer ship as a sort of “Kiddie Mode”, but gave it weaker bullets to encourage people to use the more interesting ship, but people just complained that it was too weak, so I beefed it up a bit in the patch.

I also really like the Monster Land series by Sega. I was amazed when that was re-released recently; I never thought Wonderboy in Monsterland would see the light of day again. It’s amazing what’s getting dug up now that digital downloads are a thing. Rogue-likes are making a huge comeback as well, which is cool. I think Sector 7-4-9er is, in many ways, a rogue-like where you dig your own corridors.

PushStartPlay: As you know, the next gen consoles are right around the corner, what are your thoughts on it?  Specifically for Xbox One, as it won’t have a dedicated indie feature.  

Casey Sillito:  Its really hard to tell right now. Their rhetoric is mostly focused on the grand unifying of game channels than about how exactly they are going to support indie developers. They are going to support them, obviously. Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) as we know it will be gone for sure. I’m not terribly concerned. One of the reasons I chose XBLIG was because it uses XNA and C#, which can also be used to make native Windows games and games for Windows Phone and, with some work, can be adapted to other platforms. 

To be honest, I haven’t been really impressed by the XBLIG community or Microsoft’s support of it. The writing has been on the wall for a while. I keep getting emails from Microsoft that refer to me as a “WP7 Developer”, as if XBLIG didn’t exist. I chose XBLIG because the barrier to entry is almost none but I’m already feeling like moving on. I hope that Microsoft still supports the kind of very small developers that have made good games on XBLIG, but with more curating maybe. I think whatever Microsoft does will probably be for the better.

PushStartPlay: We have many interesting games coming out this year, any games that you are personally looking forward to? 

Casey Sillito: The new Shadowrun RPG looks like fun.  I’m really glad to see this Renaissance of turn-based tactical combat.  I’m glad Baldur’s Gate saved the RPG genre in the 90’s, but I was never a fan of that real-time style of combat.  But I don’t follow games in development much because then it just becomes torture waiting for the games you want to come out!  Plus it’s not good for keyboards when you’re drooling on them all the time.

PushStartPlay: What would you like to work on next, any hints for the readers? 

Casey Sillito:  Sector 7-4-9er was a real change of pace from the more turn-based and board game-style games I was making before, and I think I’d like to get back to those games. There seems to be a trend of really literal, skeumorphic board game translations right now, so it seems like a good time.

I’m thinking of reviving an old free game that I made in Gamemaker called Loot, which was very boardgame-ish. It had mechanics that depended a lot on the player’s memory, so I thought it would be an interesting platform to explore themes of memory and how fallible and tricky our memories are. I like the idea of game mechanics that are in line with the theme of the game, rather than the theme being tacked on as an afterthought. Ultimately, I’d like to make a game where the mechanics inherently model something interesting about the human experience.
But I put a lot of work into the engine for 7-4-9er, so I’ll probably revisit that style of game at some point.

PushStartPlay: Also, as you know there are many young developers, who want to get their feet in the industry, any words of encouragement you’d like to give? 

Casey Sillito: We’re seeing an ecosystem for games that hasn’t existed since the 80’s when people would make games and sell them in zip-lock bags, but instead of zip-lock bags, we have fairly democratic, accessible distribution systems built on top of a worldwide computer network.  So that’s better.  I remember when EA was, what we would now call, an indie development house.  They would put pictures of their developers on the game package, which was designed to look like a vinyl album cover, because they wanted them to be famous like rock stars.  I think indie developers have gotten a lot closer to that now than they ever did.

PushStartPlay: Lastly, is there anything else you would like to tell us about your game, or its development? 

Casey Sillito: Like I said before, it’s a game about balance – between long and short-term needs, between attacking and evading, between rushing in and being cautious.  I wanted to make a game where these choices weren’t always obvious, and the player had to use their wits to survive in a hostile environment and deal with unexpected situations and setbacks.  Some found this frustrating, others not challenging enough, so in the patch I made it so that the difficulty setting affects more aspects of the game.  I hope people will try it on different difficulty settings if they don’t like the defaults.  And yes, there are some messages to read, but they’re really important and I added pictures to make it easier, so try to read them, okay?  Thanks.

So that was it, ladies and gentleman, an in depth interview with Mr. Casey Sillito where he talked more about his game. As you know, it is already out on the XBox Live Indie Store, so be sure to check it out, as it definitely looks interesting. Furthermore, special thanks to Ms. Serena, who is a writer here, and Mr. Tom Collins for helping with the questions. As I have said before, the game’s sales aren’t up to Mr. Casey’s expectations, but it is still a very inspirational process as Mr. Casey stuck with what he believed in and managed to finish the game entirely by himself. That, in my opinion definitely deserves a nod. Also, this is just the beginning of Mr. Casey’s new and interesting career, so we wish him all the best!

So, this is it for now, be sure to stay tuned, as we hope to interview many more indie and leading developers in the months to come.

Note: The patch that is mentioned in this interview has not yet been released, and is currently going through the certification system from Microsoft.



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