Audiball:

With the surging popularity of music games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” in many homes, the air guitar has been forced to cede its throne to the newcomer in the world of imaginary rock stardom: the plastic guitar.

But excluding the number of big-name games out there—”Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band”—the tally of games that actually use these expensive devices will likely come in at just under one.

This was what crossed the minds of three Tech second-years last year at the annual Game Developer’s Conference.

People have shelled out money for those controllers, so in the minds of Holden Link, Corey Johnson and Ian Guthridge, they ought to get their money’s worth out of them.

“At the time, the only uses for the guitar controller were ‘Guitar Hero’ and ‘Rock Band,’ and I was thinking that there are so many people that have spent all this money on these plastic instruments that only get to use them for these two games,” Link said.

Thus, Audiball was born.

“We all went to the [Game Developer’s Conference] back in Feb 2008 using some help from the Honors Program.

“While we were there, we were just struck by the Independent Games Festival. There were a lot of really cool ideas and a lot of really cool people working there, and the industry as a whole just got our imaginations going,” Link said.

The basic premise of the game ought to sound familiar to gamers who have played indie game hits such as ‘Audiosurf’ and ‘Everyday Shooter.’ As with these games, in Audiball, players can control the background music based on how they play the game.

“The goal of the game is to move balls—what we call “Audiballs”—from a launch area (the “speaker”) to a final goal. Basically, a ball shoots out each time you strum, and each fret button controls the balls’ paths,” Link said.

All three students had previous interests in game design. “It started out as something that we did just because we wanted to see if we could do it.

“I’ve been interested in game design for quite a long time, actually, and [Tech] is really one of the best places to come for a design degree in gaming, so it’s really why I came to Tech,” Johnson said.

Audiball was developed using the Xbox Community Games initiative, where indie game developers can develop and sell games on the Xbox 360 using the system’s XNA framework.

When asked what challenges working on this kind of console presented, Johnson said, “The way it worked out was that if you work for EA, and you’re going to work on a 360 game, you’re going to have access to Microsoft’s entire development kit…but for the community games initiative, what they did was release a framework called XNA to the general public…to bridge the gap between hobbyists and people who [develop] full time, [but] you still don’t have access to the full hardware.”

“I’d say there were just as many design changes based on discovering something wasn’t fun as we discovered something wasn’t possible with the framework we’d been presented.” Link said.

While all three suggest that anyone interested in game design should give it a shot, they also offer up a word of caution to consider the amount of time it takes.

“I think if you want to name one thing as the hardest part of the experience, the one thing that would prevent people from doing this normally, has got to be crunch time…Including weekends, I averaged about 4 hours of sleep a night last semester,” Guthridge said.

Link and Johnson stated similar figures, also noting a few caffeine-fueled weekends spent in non-stop coding sessions.

Link, Guthridge and Johnson have formed their own game development company as well: Indecisive Games.

The three are hopeful that they will be able to take the company to the next level and make a full-time enterprise of it, but are being cautious about it.

“We’d really like [to develop Indiesicive Games into a full-time company],…but it’s a matter of getting the timing right and getting the start-up capital so we can just take a summer off from doing things like internships and school and just work on something. It’s difficult to weigh the risk and reward of that right now,” Guthridge said.

“We still want to see how Audiball has performed, at least, before we make any solid decisions right now, but all three of us are interested in pursuing that route, if at all possible,” Link said.