Developing Janksy: A developer's Windows 8 experience

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Dlala Studios are an independent games studio founded by industry veterans from award winning projects such as "Monstermind" and the record breaking MMO "RuneScape".

We recently spoke to Dlala founder AJ Grand-Scrutton about why he chose to leave well paid-jobs at large development houses in order to be his own boss and learn more about Dlala's first game title; 'Janksy', a space based physics adventure, which was live in the Windows 8 store for the October 26th launch.

After a successful career so far, you've recently gone indie, why was this?

AJ: This is actually something a lot of people close to me were wondering. We'd just won the BAFTA, in March (for Monstermind), at Bossa and then by May I was leaving and it was all quite confusing. I had always said I wanted to form my own studio by the time I was 35 and after the BAFTA - despite 35 being some way off - I realised that maybe it was the time to do it. I have no mortgage, no kids to support and it just felt like the right time so I said 'F*ck It' and just went for it.

Tell us about the game, what is it and who is it for?

AJ: So the game is called 'Janksy' and he is for everyone. It's a space based physics adventure, featuring this adorable little naive alien. You fire him across space using his laser-claw and you can ricochet him off the rings of planets, fire him round the gravity wells of black holes, through wormholes in space and all the while you are trying to collect Nebula and get him back to his ship. It's a simple, quick to pick up game with bite size levels and it's going to be released with the launch of Windows 8 on October 26th for PC and Tablet devices.

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What inspired the story and Janksy character?

AJ: I love this question! Now when you play the game you won't see a lot of the story coming through because, to be completely honest, we didn't have the time or budget to put in the cut scenes that we wanted to, but there is this wonderful story all built around the universe Janksy is set in and we really hope to continue this into future games of different genres. The main inspiration behind the story and Janksy itself was the classic Cartoon Network shows. Shows like Dexter's Lab, Earthworm Jim, Ren and Stimpy etc... those shows with that great aesthetic feel. Too many games are going for that really polished, mainstream look and that's great. I mean don't get me wrong it's not doing games like Angry Birds and Cut The Rope any harm but it's not what we wanted for Janksy. We wanted an aesthetic feel that we would buy into, that we could imagine ourselves wearing shirts of and we just got lucky that our artists could transfer our babbling thoughts into exactly what we wanted.

How is it different from games you've developed in the past for other platforms?

AJ: Oh wow, it's been completely different to other games I've developed in. My first big break in the industry came at Jagex where I spent 3 years working on an MMO, and then we have Bossa where I was working on the FB game 'Monstermind' for over a year. Janksy has been a quick turnaround project and we've had absolutely 0 budget. There has not been a penny, so we've got this amazing team that we've been in the trenches working ridiculous hours every day just to get the game to be the vision we wanted for it. We've actually found that we've been a lot stricter on ourselves than we have in previous roles. The platform itself has been fantastic though and we've had a great time developing with Win 8.

What's the business model and why?

AJ: This has been a new area for myself and Craig (Thomas the other Dlala Director). Neither of us have worked in the business sector of games development previously and that combined with the fact that we're releasing into a brand new platform and store meant that it's almost a guessing game. We've decided to go for a 'premium' model of paying up front. We're only charging 1.79 pounds to purchase the game and that will include all the initial levels (close to 100) and then we will be releasing future updates, some might be pay for, but right now we're looking at free expansions like a Xmas update, which we've already started working on.

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Why a Windows 8 game?

AJ: This is something I've spoken about in a couple of my presentations recently. When we formed the company we looked at all the platforms available to us, we had experience, both professionally and from a hobbyist perspective, with browser based, FB games, Android, iOS and desktop based. Then we looked at Win 8 and a big appeal, from a business perspective, was it has a fresh store.

If you are a new company with absolutely no money and you try to launch on Apple or Android markets you are essentially throwing a grain of rice into a lake and hoping that some swimmer finds it. With the Windows 8 store there are less than 500 games on there. To me that's pretty much getting the chance to setup a shop in central London with no competitors for miles.

However we've read the press and Microsoft haven't had the most favourable coverage from the indie games part of the industry. Then I bumped into the Win 8 guys at Develop in Brighton, around 2 weeks after we formed the company. I continued to speak via e-mail and then a week later we had committed to releasing a Windows 8 launch title. We honestly wouldn't be where we are without the support we've had from Microsoft, and it's really important that people realise I'm not getting paid to say this, we're not on any Microsoft payroll we're stone cold broke in fact. It's just been an amazing experience that this gigantic company is helping us to grow, thanks to Microsoft we were introduced to the editor of Develop and our little company, which formed in June, is the October cover story of Develop magazine.

That's massive to us and adds to the fact we got accepted into the BizSpark programme which has meant we've had access to all Microsoft keys that we need, so my little broke studio is full of a team working on Windows 8 Pro and the $13,000per license version of Visual Studio - it's just out of this world. I came into indie thinking Microsoft were going to be assholes and they are the exact opposite.

What languages did you use to write the game?

AJ: As it's just a simple 2d game, we built the game in native C# with an XAML frontend.

How long did it take to create?

AJ: We've turned the full game around in approximately 9.5 weeks.

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What did you have to consider from a design and ux pov?

AJ: When you are developing for Windows 8 you have to take into account that your game is going to be played on both a PC with Keyboard/Mouse and also Tablet devices. It would have been very easy to just cater for one and not the other or even built separate controls.

We however wanted to create a control system which would feel perfectly designed for both. In terms of aspects such as UI Windows 8 actually handles the scaling to different resolutions for you, so we just built an interface which looked and felt great on both platforms and let the platform do the work for us.

Were there any specific development challenges and how did you overcome them?

AJ: Now this is going to sound crazy but there haven't been any. I mean obviously the long days and lack of money are challenges in themselves but the actual development of the game has been really painless.

Why would you recommend developing a game for Windows 8?

AJ: Not only would I but I have been pretty much telling every indie I meet that they should be looking at developing in Windows 8. It's a great platform, a fresh store and a great company to work with, it's a complete no brainer.

What did you enjoy most about developing for Windows 8?

AJ: I'd probably say the development environment itself. We're using Visual Studios 2012 Ultimate combined with the TFS version control/sprint planning software and it's honestly been the most painless version control system I've ever used. Craig and I have very different opinions on version control system I've swayed towards SVN while he swayed towards GIT however we decided to take the risk and use TFS and boy did it pay off. Knowing you have version control you can completely rely on and then seeing how easily it integrates into the development environment is just great.

How will you approach promoting your game?

AJ: This is the hard bit for us, we have zero budget, literally no money, so we're relying on people like you [ubelly] to get in contact and offer us these great opportunities to just talk about what we're doing. We've just been accepted to do a 2 day event at OpenGameCity this year which we're calling "GameCity Galaxies" people will be able to come see us, play the game, have a chat and then if they like - they can have a go at designing a level. We will then pick our favourite levels and release them to the public as a free download for Janksy. I'm also doing my best to go round and do talks. I should be doing one at Evolve this year in London.

What are your plans for the future?

AJ: We've got a few things going on; the guys are already working on the Xmas update which will just be some fun new levels and a Xmas themed skin change. We're waiting for the Windows Phone 8 SDK to be released so we can try and get the phone version out for Xmas. Craig and I have also started working on a couple of projects which we will be picking our favourite out of and then putting into full production.

What advice would you give aspiring developers who are looking to turn their idea into a reality?

AJ: Do it. Don't make excuses because the only blockade in the way of you and doing what you want to do is yourself. You don't need money and you don't need experience, you just need a great team and the passion for the project. 4 months ago I was sitting at my desk working a great development job and now I'm here about to release my own game made in 9 weeks with no money. The reality is the people reading this are probably more talented than me so if some guy from Essex you've never heard of can do it. So can you.

Want to know more?

Thanks to AJ of Dlala for chatting with us! For more information visit Dlala.

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