Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

GarageGames / Mark Frohnmayer Interview

Mark Frohnmayer is the President and co-founder of GarageGames, the company behind the wildly popular Marble Blast series and the new Xbox Live exclusive, Marble Blast Ultra. We discuss MBUltra, Microsoft, and indie gaming.

Even if youآ’ve never heard the name Mark Frohnmayer, chances are that you are familiar with one of the games he has made. Starting out as a programmer with Dynamix (Tribes 1 & 2), Mark is now the President and co-founder of GarageGames, the company behind the wildly popular Marble Blast series and the new Xbox Live exclusive Marble Blast Ultra. For those of you who donآ’t know, Marble Blast Ultra is an Xbox 360 exclusive title that features 60 single player levels, 10 multiplayer levels and costs only 800 Microsoft Points.

GarageGames is changing the gaming world. How they're made. How they're played. How they're marketed. Our mission is simple: to create truly innovative, feature-rich, yet affordable, tools and resources for developers at any level - and on any platform. It's this technical expertise, front-line experience, and commitment to originality that already reinvented the industry with our revolutionary Torque gaming platform and the one and only Indie Games Conference.

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GarageGames not only makes great games, but for a mere $100, the company also licenses the award winning Torque Game Engine. This gives independent developers the tools to make their own games for a fraction what it would cost to license other popular game engines.

Before we get to the interview, I want to give you a little back story on how this interview came about. I was introduced to Marble Blast Ultra by my friend Tycho at Penny Arcade and, before I knew it, I was cofounder of the worldآ’s first Blast Club. During one of our many online Blast sessions both Tycho and I wondered out loud about the possibility of downloadable content, team play modes and maybe even an add-on map pack. I decided the best way to get answers to these questions and more was to give the guys at GarageGames a call.

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First of all, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview.

My pleasure. I had to cut short my Saturday morning Marble Blasting, but so it goes smile

For the uninitiated, who are you and what do you do?

I'm Mark Frohnmayer, co-founder and President of GarageGames. I have been making games professionally for the last 11 years, first at Dynamix where I was the programming lead on the Tribes and Tribes 2 games. After 6 years of working for a division of a division of a division of a division of a water company, a few of us decided to split off and form GarageGames, in order to make technology and games on our own terms. At GG I've had a number of roles, including being the original programmer and designer of the Marble Blast series of games.

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Marble Blast Ultra is out, it is a great game and people are really enjoying it. How does it feel to see so many people taking to Ultra?

It feels great! The team put a lot of effort into getting Ultra done to a high level of quality on a tight timeline, so seeing people be so enthusiastic about our game really makes us all feel good.

Were there times when you had doubts about the success of Marble Blast Ultra being delivered over Xbox Live?

I was convinced when we started the project that downloadable games on consoles would be extremely successful, especially given the level of integration Live Arcade has on the 360. Our only real concern from day one was time pressure -- getting a new version of the game out with full multiplayer support and totally updated visuals on a new platform in six months was a daunting challenge.

How many people worked on Marble Blast Ultra?

The team started at five and ended up at ten developers internally by the end of production. Plus we had Tim Clark working out of house on the sound and music, the whole marketing team at GG and PR crew at Sandbox, Katie Stone and the production team at Microsoft and the excellent testing efforts of VMC. In the end there were quite a few people involved in making Ultra the success that it has become.

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How do you feel about the success of Marble Blast Ultra?

It has eclipsed even our wildest expectations. We made the original Marble Blast to show that it was possible to make simple, fun non-FPS games with the Torque Engine. Back then I never imagined the title's successor would be in the launch window on a next generation console :)

Still, as game design goes I'm ultimately a mechanics guy -- I tend to focus on the interaction between the human player and the game -- and the "feel" of MBU is the tightest, most engaging play mechanic of any of the games I've worked on. Given that I'm not totally surprised that it's caught on.

What is the possibility of a single player Ultra map pack?

Definitely a possibility. We didn't have time to add downloadable pack support before we shipped, but we're investigating ways of making it happen now.

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Multiplayer Ultra map pack?

Strong possibility in the near time frame.

Ultra Team Play?

I have wanted to do team play in Marble Blast since before the original was even done... wouldn't that be cool?

Game modes and Power Ups?

Definitely possible.

Additional downloadable content?

We're looking at doing some downloadable themeing content as well like gamer pictures and backgrounds.

What is next for GarageGames and Xbox Live?

Lots of cool Torque-powered stuff that we're not quite ready to talk about yet :)

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Switching modes a bit, from a business standpoint how has working with Microsoft been?

We've had an extremely good working relationship with Microsoft. They've expressed a continuing desire to see indie games succeed on their platform, and even given the challenges of launching a new console, they went out of their way to make the development process as painless as possible for us. We are very excited about working with them in the future.

Do you recommend developing for Xbox Live for other indie developers?

Definitely. XBox 360 Live Arcade is a tremendous opportunity for indie developers - and at GG we've worked to make the transition of a game to the 360 almost totally painless.

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We heard that the traditional developer / publisher profit split was along the lines of 30/70. We also heard that with Microsoft and Xbox Live it is almost the opposite of that figure. Is that true?

In the traditional retail model the number for the developer can be even lower. When Greg Canessa spoke at IndieGamesCon in October, he stated publicly that the developer percentages would be over 50% -- and you seem to have some numbers that are even more drilled down than that. We think MS is offering a very fair deal to developers.

That brings me to my next question, how well has Marble Blast Ultra performed from a development studioآ’s perspective? The reason I ask is because Marble Blast Ultra is developed on the same engine you can purchase for $100.00 from GarageGames. Shouldn't this be inspiration and incentive for other indie developers?

The sales of MBU continue to outpace even our most optimistic predictions. I think this is amazingly compelling -- that a studio can take the Torque Shader Engine, build a game on the PC side on a shoe string budget and have phenomenal success in the downloadable space.

Marble Blast was originally started as a tech demo for Torque and meant to inspire indie developers to see the kind of fun games they could make in a scope that is accessible to the resources they can even self-fund. We're seeing some amazing games with our Torque Game Builder (2D game engine) and even veteran game developers considering the 360 version of the Torque Shader Engine Xbox for XBLA.

The opportunities for game developers have been expanding since we started GarageGames and our vision of downloadable content, state of the art technology at affordable prices and a passionate community committed to make games is becoming less a visionary one and more just the reality of the market.

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Many gamers were tremendously excited by the recent Torque engine tech demonstration video. It has ignited the hopes of many that there will be a "Tribes" game coming. With that kind of enthusiastic fan base still alive and well, what are the chances of seeing something along the lines of Tribes for the Xbox 360 / Xbox Live? Maybe a Tribes game released over Xbox Live in episodes or campaigns?

These are interesting possibilities you mention... we'll be able to say it was rumored first on HardOCP if or when that becomes a reality. smile For now though, our plates are more than full with our current projects, so it will have to remain a simple tech demo for the short term future.

Thanks Mark, I sincerely appreciate your time

You are most welcome -- whenever you want to Marble it up, let me know. smile

Please join us in a thread dedicated to this interview in the HardForum Console Gaming area.