Good morning everybody. I’m proud to present you the interview of Alejandro Jimenez (@dunkelg), developer and founder of DunkelGames, with games like ChocoRun. Here are their answers… A great interview (thanks to @japargon for his help) :
- First off: Can you introduce yourself to my readers, please?
Hi to every Louesfera reader out there, my name is Alejandro Jiménez. I’ve been working as a developer for 8 years, actually working on developing new functions and modules for the ERP Microsoft Dynamics AX and web applications ready to be used on touch devices with jQuery Mobile and Asp.Net. At a more personal level I’ve always been a great videogame lover and two years ago I faced the challenge of entering into the mobile game industry to make a childhood dream a reality.
- It seems like you’ve been developing games for pleasure overall, with not many economical claims, considering yourself well enough payed with the experiences you had and the people you have met in this world of mobile gaming but… Have you ever thougt in a future you could pay your dues exclusively with your game (or application) developments?
Totally! Who hasn’t entered this market without dreaming about having the next big hit with a new Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride?… But the reality we have to face is very different to those game’s cases. This market is filled with an atrocius competence, with the lack (or little) afluence of updates and promotion can hide in the most remote of the oblivions any great product, and even when everything is done and well done, a great piece of luck is needed to success. My actual situation ins’t having a big hit on the store, it’s a prominent game but that doesn’t fill the fridge. I’ve always wanted to have a certain laboral stability and it doesn’t look like the App Store is going to give me that anytime soon. And even if it was, it’s something that scares me a little. Transforming your hobby into your work could be an awesome thing if it goes well, but if not, the last thing I want to get bored about are videogames. I would have to see it very clearly to be entirely dedicated to this and overall, have some results that allow me to do it, so at the moment, my intention is to continue learning and have fun meanwhile.
- As far as we know you started teasing some development environments to be able to develop games, developing Knife Club with Gamesalad. How did you start in this game development world? Is Knife Club your truly first game?
No, to be sincere it only is my first published game on iOS, but let’s start from the beginnings…
I’ve wanted to enter the videogame developing world since I was 12, now I’m 28. In that time I had a cool 486 with its Windows 3.11 for workgroups, a really fast and furious machine. I don’t remember how, but i was able to get my hands on a little piece of software focused on making simple visual games called Click&Play (It later became GamesFactory). My imagination was blown away with it and I learned a lot. I made various games, a Pong clone, an Asteroids clone and then started with my own ideas developing Balls&Bugs. A game based on moving a bug with the mouse while lots of balls that could squish it were bouncing around the screen. I ended my experience with Click&Play with a gaming that became a sign of identity for me, William’s Adventures, getting the idea from Indiana Jones and making a games viewed from above where William the adventurer had to overcome various traps and face huge final bosses. The game was a total success on my then very little social network, wich was only school’s friends. But I soon ended up having used every asset the application had at a graphical level and as I didn’t found the way to make my own graphics, I left there.
When I was 16 I had the luck to assist to a basic developing course in Visual Basic 6.0 and with the very little I was able to learn in 2 months, I made a complete Arkanoid styled game… imagine how hard can be to make a ball bounce knowing just conditionals… but it was very fun! And it helped me learning to think in a very structured way. Since then, making a full videogame and put it on sale has been around my mind, I’ve made lots of tests on my own that never got finished, even getting to do some tests for the Xbox with C# and XNA. I have some videos on youtube where you can see what a disaster it was :-S :
The thing is how to publish a game for PC, Xbox… The needed resources are quite high. I had the problem I was alone in what I was doing, if I wanted to publish a game I had to get the idea, make the code, the graphics, music, promotion… I wasn’t able to manage all that by myself. But then the iPhone and its apps appeared and even if at the start I wasn’t on the mood to enter that market, lots of games were appearing and being very succesful without great techniques or visuals and being very fun. I saw my possiblity and started tasting Objective-C, making some test apps and suffering every one of them, learning Objective-C on your own isn’t what we can call easy and even less when I already was a professional developer with some pre-established patterns. So I went on searching for another way to get get in, something more visual and friendly what could make me able to develop a test game, publish it, see how it could evolve, how the App Store worked, certificates and lots of new things that I wanted to get in touch before getting into a big project.
So I started with GameSalad with the idea of recovering that first game, Balls&Bugs, I soon discovered another game on the App Store that was almost the same and it was very well made, I didn’t wanted to publish something worse than another almost identical app so I decided to offer what I had done as a free project and get into another thing. You can see at what point I was when I abandoned the project, maybe someday I’ll return to the idea and adapt it in some other way, but anyway, it helped me to remember some really good times :
I continued with another project I prefer not to mention because it’s an idea I could use in a very near future but had to abandon it due to some GameSalad limitations, it was clear that already being a devloper it wasn’t the tool for me, but at the same time it was very easy to use so before completely abandoning it I wanted to publish something fast to have the App Store experience I’ve mentioned before. I developed Knife Club in 4 days and realease it to the world to see what could happen, that’s why it’s known as my first game.
- You’d like to think that someday you could have your own company or work for another exclusively dedicated to videogames? In wich conditions would you be ready to make it a reality ?
As I’ve said previously, it’s something that scares me a little. I don’t close the door to anything, but I always look for jobs that can make me learn and have a sesnse of progression while allowing me to say that I have a pay at the end of the month and I’m not risking everything I have in the success of my next game. If someday that’s clear I’d seriously think about it, but I can’t say I’d do it blindly.
- Questions about Ansca:
- The fact that Carlos Icaza (Ansca co-founder) as one of the most known entrepeneurs in the multiplatform game developing world mentioned your game, says a lot about your good work. Did you had contant with Carlos before or have been able to talk with him personally? Do you know others from Ansca ?
It truly is a big thing having Carlos talking about ChocoRun and it will always surprise me as much as all I have lived with this exceptional person. Even if we nhave never talked we have comunicated via e-mail.
- ChocoRun (iPhone)
Before publishing ChocoRun he was one of the very few that saw it and encourage me to publish it, I owe him a lot, overall for what I call ‘The Incident’, it was when a GameSalad developer published a template to make games with almost the same graphics ChocoRun had (it really wasn’t hard with the very first 1.0 version) and to that followed another developer who published the template, without any changes, as his app.
Carlos helped me getting in touch with GameSalad’s CEO and we were able to resolve the graphics change for that template, he also offered me to get some help from his lawyers if Apple didn’t wanted to get rid of the clone. Fortunately it wasn’t necessary but the implication of Carlos on all this got me truly astonished.
It’s complicated to talk about copies and clones when ChocoRun it’s very based on Super Meat Boy but its control differences, game style, level design and many more things as i’ts been updating convinced me that I needed to defend my product. Apart from not so happy reasons, I’ve been in touch with Carlos for some funny things like organising together a huge chocolate cake delivery to Sidney, Australia, for Peach Pellen’s birthday.
I am really produ to say I’m a friend (apart from being an unconditional fan) of Peach Pellen, in fact she was who motivated me to test Corona trough her posts on the GameSalad forums, hugely helping me after my first contact with Corona with her tutorials on Techority.com, At a point when I already had ChocoRun planned I got in contact with her to see if she could help me with some doubts and she got back to me in such a friendly and warm way that I couldn’t resist but keep getting in contact to show her mi progresses and have some advise, with time, it all became a great friendship, we have even worked together on a Plants vs Zombies styled template which has already been used to make a full project by the guys from Weeny Brains what they’ve done is just incredible.
- To the people who use Android, can you explain a little to us why we don’t have ChocoRun on our Androids yet, if its development has been made with CoronaSDK ?
Well, through the lifetime of ChocoRun the reason has been changing, we think we are actually facing the last problem we have to deal with and that it will be solved soon. The first reason was that I wasn’t so interested in Android and didn’t considered to pay for a more expensive Corona license would be a good idea, but when we became a team and saw how ChocoRun was starting to climb the charts we wanted to do it.
The next problem would be the app size, too big for what Android allowed. About two months ago, the folks from Corona surprised us greatly improving sprite performance and the amount of images allowed to be on screen at the same time so we rebuilt every level from scratch, basing them on tiles and cutting the app size more than a half. But we stumbled upon a new problem, scaling to some resolutions makes some glitchy lines appear on tile intersections when moving sprite groups together.
That’s the essence of Lime, the library we use to be able to make levels in Tiled and read hem from Corona, so actually our maps show some ugly squares when moving on Android. The bug has been notified to Corona and they have test cases based on Lime and independants so we hope it will be solved really soon and we will finally be able to have a Choco-Droid ;-)
- Having in mind the many third-party addons available for Corona that help a lot with Lua and CoronaSDK developments, if you could, what would you improve on CoronaSDK itself ?
I would ask for two simple things: A debugger and an integrated level editor. They are things we already have solutions for, but I’d prefer it wasn’t this way and have them integrated into the SDK. Graham Ranson (Lime’s developer) and the guys from ParticleCandy, the two products I use for my developments have always been nice with me, helping in what they’ve been able to, I even consider Graham a friend and someone that’s always been encouraging me, but I think an integrated level editor could have been the solution to, for example, have ChocoRun in Android since we wanted to have it in.
The reason to ask for a debbuger is simple… as a developer it’s a great help to not lose time searching for that stupid bug that always appear at the worst time. Now I have a debugger on Mac using CoronaComplete but I still make some code from a PC due to have a much bigger screen than my laptop and I miss that tool a lot.
- Do you think CoronaSDK could be used for enterprise and communication solutions ?
It depends, I love Corona, its ease of use, LUA language and its unbelievable community, but to answer correctly I can’t say Corona is the adequate solution or not, because what I’m not sure of is if native development is adequate. I understand there are many different types of apps in wich it could be greatly recommended, I’m thinking about virtual catalogues or gamification projects to promote mark.
But if what we want, as my case, is to develop an application constantly communicated with a database, with integrated rights management, etc… let’s talk for example about a CRM application, being Corona or another multiplatform SDK, if we build an enterprise app with that our company will be tied to the thrid-party luck, the owners of the SDK will have to keep giving support in case of need and keep their software alive and updated. If we don’t talk about multiplatform, going to Objective-C or Java for Android, our company will be tied not only to a company (with much less probability to fail) but also to an especific device and technology and they could, for example make obsolete all their existing devices and offer support only for the latest ones, forcing our company to spend a lot more in development and devices.
Mi actual idea and the one we are applying at my actual job is going to the web, adapting it to it’s use from touch devices, but basing our software in standards that can work on every kind of device, from the traditional PC, tablets, phones… or whatever comes next. What’s very clear is that we want to maintain a dependancy from the less ones the better so we can really responsabilize about our developments.
- Why did you thought in making this fantastic clon of “Super Meat Boy” ?
Well, the Wright brothers were told they couldn’t fly and I was told I couldn’t have my favourite game in my pocket hahahaha.
The idea was born when Super Meat Boy became my favourite platformer, I like everything about it and still play it a lot. One day I searched for it on iOS assuming an adapted version would exist due to its growing populairty but it wasn’t like that, I think it’s been the only time I’ve searched for something on the App Store and no result came out. Then I thought ‘Well, sure they’re developing it right now…’ So I searched for Team Meat’s blog and started to read… I was surprised, their developers didn’t wanted to port it to iOS or Android because they thought a game like SMB couldn’t be made for touch devices, saying that its controls couldn’t work…
That got me slitghtly angry I must admit it, I’ve never believed in ‘it can’t be done’ I’m more a ‘how are we doing this?’ person. I mean nothing’s really impossible, there’s always a path as hard as it could be to find, I was sad SMB’s own creators didn’t wanted to find it for the fans they had asking for it. If them, with all their resources achieved thanks to their game’s popularity didn’t wanted to do it, I’d try it. I was also motivated because a game like that doesn’t need impressive visuals to be fun, it’s about its frenetism, the precision it requires and its gameplay, so I found a game I was able to make alone and even more, to fill a hole in the App Store. It must be said that today, a year after ChocoRun’s first release, Team Meat are working on a SMB version for iOS, so never say never.
- One of the things that I liked the most about ChocoRun has been precisely the possibility of having a game based on SMB but on touch-screen devices, something that its developers dismissed because they thought it wouldn’t be the perfect environment for it. Why then did you thought in making ChocoRun instead of making another kind of game that could be more adapted for touch-screens ?
As I’ve said on the previous question, it was a challenge I faced for the sake of being able to play SMB on my iPhone, I was grown playing Gouls and Ghosts, Contra, Megaman and many more on the best times of platformers, that was what I wanted to play, a platformer that requires training to beat it and with a classic retro smell that us, the players of those first 8 bit machines, have learned to love.
Porting it to a touch-screen device was going to be the difference and real deal, as Team Meat I also thought virtual controls couldn’t be the solution for that, a button must be a button, but a world of possibilities like a touch-screen can also control a precision platformer and I looked for the way to achieve it. I’m not saying I made the perfect decision and that all platformers should sport the same controls as ChocoRun, there are players who love them and there are that not, but what I think is more developers should try creating other kinds of controls and maybe someday we’ll face a formula that everyone will consider perfect.
Until then the only thing that’s left is to experiment and offer new ways of achieving the same emotions of traditional controls. I could have done something easier or more purely tactile but I have to be true to myself, if I’m going to put all my spare time into this kind of projects, I want to enjoy them the first. I can’t make a game I wouldn’t like to play.
- Talk us about your ChocoRun team : Pedro Oria and Joan Carles Quintans.
About Pedro I can say we are friends since we were 10, in fact he always followed my attemps at making games since Balls&Bugs and he is also a great player. So when I thought in getting a team together (when ChocoRun was half done) to be able to work in a more relaxed way and share ideas who I was going to call was a clear decision. Pedro hasn’t been so tied to development as me so he first started designing various levels for ChocoRun and testing them a lot and his collaboration was essential to define the final gameplay and to put some pressure on me to develop new obstacles to have levels with more variety. Sadly and for personal reasons, he decided to left not too much ago, from here the only thing I can say is I wish the best for him, both personally and professionaly and we’ll keep in touch, as always, with no problem at all.
Joan Carles is a digital brush magician and that’s the less I can say about him. I met him after publishing ChocoRun, looking for an artist trough some friends that were studying design, one of them put me in contact with Joan Carles, who wanted to join the team inmediately after watching the trailer for our 1.0 version, and with that, enter the videogame world, something that was also a dream for he. He has a great experiencie in graphic arts and perfectly showed it creating a much more improved version of the initial graphics for the game on its 2.0 version. Thanks to him, now our possibilites are higher, he can create awesome graphics so we are not tied to find a type of game that can be done with very simple graphics, now we can do something that looks totally professional.
- Someone could consider you are a hobbyist developer because you enjoy what you do, but I think of you more like an indie developer. How do you consider yourself ?
Well look, actually I think between both, I’ve been a hobbyist developer since one year ago and then came ChocoRun, but that’s the only project I’ve made that can be considered indie. Anyway it’s true that I haven’t published other games before just because never found the necessary resources, it takes a lot to build a game and I’m not talking at a technical level, easier every day thanks to tools like Corona, but at an idea level, How to transmit certain emotions to the player is something that can’t be learned in a couple of days, I’m still trying to figure out how to do it and trying to find the magic formula that makes me able to know if a certain game mechanic could work before putting it in practice as well as trying to bring back my own childhood emotions and create games that give the same to the touch-screen players.
That effort in research, the code, graphic design, promotion, etc… I say that’s working and if it gives me at least the money needed to pay some tools now and then and maintain my development licenses, I’m not going to reject it, so I think I’ll become more indie as years go by. But I would want to add that Corona’s community shares a lot so I wanted to add my little part to it and after publishing ChocoRun I made the Plants vs Zombies template I told you before with Peach Pellen and also a virtual pad template available at the code sharing section of Corona’s website so I’m still between hobbyist and indie.
- We would like to know who does the external work apart from the game’s development, everything that’s not coding, graphics and music/sounds.
DunkelGames team is based in Joan Carles and me, there’s no one else. Promotion is made by both, he does the art and I usually put the words. The blog is also maintained by me and here ends… Music is something we are still thinking how to solve, for ChocoRun we were lucky to find Oskar Hanberg (Ozzed from http://ozzed.net) who let us use his whole dscography for our developments and that was awesome because his music fitted ChocoRun’s philosophy perfectly, but we are still thinking if we should do it ourselves or find someone who wants to join us and is full of illusion. If somebody is interested please get in contact soon, we already are in conversations with some people.
- Apart from Lua for CoronaSDK, what other languages do you work with in your day job ?
- How do you combine your day job with game development ?
It isn’t hard for me, it’s just a matter of how much you want to do it, instead of going out with friends every weekend or watch tv for hours I make games. It’s nothing far from someone who builds models or has a music band. Because it’s a hobby I can do it without having to do a big effort apart from going to sleep a little later and get up needing a dose of caffeine.
In the last 2 years I’ve invested almost all my spare time in this, holidays, weekends and nights and I’ll continue doing it while motivated to learn and being able to publish a project every now and then. Clearly the fact that I live alone helps to have more time available but even if it wasn’t like that I’m pretty sure I’ll keep finding some moments to work on games without trouble.
- Have you had any job offer thanks to the ChocoRun’s success and your very good english level ?
There’s been something, yes, I prefer not to mention names but we were even asked if we would sell ChocoRun’s code. We study every input received, even that offer, but at the end there’s always a good part and a bad part on everything and for the moment the decision to keep going as we are and try to develop projects that we like as players has more weight.
It’s funny you mentioned that about my english level because some days ago I was talking with my mother and thanked her to take me to particular classes with a teacher who didn’t speak a word of spanish when I was 7, the english I learned in 2 summers is almost all the english I know right now, so again, thanks mom! It’s been and it keeps being very useful.
- Would you accept external inversion propositions for DunkelGames or it’s something you totally dismiss ?
Is that a proposition? Hahahaha.
I don’t close any door, as I’ve said on the previous question, we study everything, but what you say is something we should talk with the interested person very carefully. At the moment we don’t live out of this and we can’t promise something we can’t do or put in risk the jobs that pay our dues.
- Are you still impressed when someone like Carlos Icaza talks about you: false-modesty ;-) or you think it’s well deserved ? What other games would you recommend on the App Store made in Corona by a small group like you ?
Well, let’s see it like this… Carlos Icaza is an authentic professional in this business in Silicon Valley, he worked on Adobe, Macromedia and Asca as the most noticeable companies, on products like Illustrator, Flash for mobile or the genuine Corona SDK, of course yes, having this man talking with me or mentioning my game knowing that will bring a little more visibility for our game it’s still surprising and something to be proud of.
There are lots of great Corona made games! Hahaha some I’ve really enjoyed are Walkabout from Base2, a very addictive and challenging puzzle game, the two masterpieces from Fire Maple Games, The Secret of Grisly Manor and The Lost City, a couple of games every adventure lover should play. A super funny RPG made by Group Sound called My Little Monster and also Mosquito Madness from Crawl Space Games, a very original endless runner. There are lots more, but those are the ones I’ve played more.
I would like to thank you for your interview, you’ve made me remember everything lived in these last years and the truth is they’ve been great experiences, I only hope you’ve been entertained and for those who want to enter into this world I would say, do it now, it’s possible that you won’t get your life solved but now there are more tools than ever and distribution channels that are easy and cheap, it’s just a matter of putting some hours into it and you’ll see the sensation you’ll have when publishing a final product is something that can’t be payed.
Best regards to everyone!