G.S: I’ve struggled to come up with the questions for you more than any other developer, due to the fact that your games seem to have no consistent theme – each is its own experience and style. Is it your team’s intention to experiment with different genres, and do you think you will continue to do so?
A.E: First of all we’re sorry that we’ve been so hard to categorise! :o) We always like to try and do something different. I think we do like to try new things, that’s for sure. Now we’re beginning to see critical success with games like
|OMG-Z: In the top ten rated PSP games on Metacritic|
G.S: Is there a single theme or concept that runs through all Laughing Jackal releases, and if so what would you consider it to be?
A.E: The boring answer to this is that we try to not overreach. The vast majority of our games are delivered in a very short time frame, and when we do go over it’s only ever by a matter of days or weeks. As we continue to build a reputation it might be nice to work on games of a slightly larger scale, but for now we’re happy to continue working on stuff with quick turnarounds. It keeps the job interesting!
I think in terms of game theme, one thing we’ve seized upon it to try and make games that anyone can play and that feature a reason to keep playing. That manifested itself in super easy controls with a strong upgrade system in our previous two releases, Orbit and
G.S: Is game development something which you’ve always wanted to pursue, or was there one particularly pivotal moment in your life when you made the decision you wanted to be a game developer?
A.E: I have always wanted to be involved in the world of gaming. While that originally manifested itself in the desire to be a reviewer for the gaming press, I was amazed to find myself working for a company actually creating games of our own.
To be honest I didn’t do anything specific to work towards a career in development, so I consider myself very lucky indeed. I don’t draw or code, but I’ve had a hand in designing many of the 11 minis we’ve done (particularly
G.S: All of your games have been released exclusively on PlayStation products. In terms of sales, audience and the ease / cost of entry, is publishing on the PS Store rewarding?
A.E: I think it’s been a great experience for us. The rewards definitely make it worthwhile and we’ve been able to build up a loyal fanbase from it. Making minis means you can turn around games in a decent time frame, and you can be more playful in that kind of indie environment.
Working on the PSN Store has made things so much simpler for us as none of the hoops that stifle development on other platforms are there. Once you’ve got your dev kit you’re good to go.
The exclusivity with Sony has been great for us as we’ve built up a really good relationship with them, one that should continue for many years to come on PS3, Vita, and whatever platforms are down the line. Long may it continue!
G.S: Do you plan on releasing future titles on other platforms such as PC or Xbox Live?
A.E: I can confirm that we are looking at other platforms. I wouldn’t be surprised to see our games on iOS, maybe Android and perhaps Steam in the coming months. XBLA is a different kettle of fish. To self publish on Xbox presents some difficulties so it’s not an option for us unfortunately.
We’ve also considered XBLIG as a route to market on Xbox but the uptake is so tiny for all but a tiny percentage of games that we can’t really justify that either.
It’s a real shame as we’d LOVE to work with Microsoft.
G.S: PSP has suffered from widespread piracy issues since early in its life, whereas the PS3 is a far harder system to hack, and a scarce few have managed. Was the inclusion of enhanced graphics for Hungry Giraffe when played on PS3 an attempt to incentivise purchase rather than illegally downloading the game for PSP?
A.E: If only we were so savvy about such things! We discovered the technique we used to upscale HG’s graphics during development of the Fighting Fantasy titles quite by accident. It has a high overhead for minis development as the game sizes are so tiny and the fill rate is heavily impacted using our technique. However, these issues weren’t so much of a problem with a game like Hungry Giraffe. The option was there to make a nicer looking game for the nice folks who buy our games, so why wouldn’t we take it? :o)
|The graphics for Laughing Jackal's Hungry Giraffe are fancier when played on PS3.|
G.S: Would you recommend the minis platform as the ideal place for a new developer to release their first game? What are the benefits to an upstart studio over?
A.E: Totally! The great thing about it is you can cut your teeth selling a DLG product on a professional marketplace, which gets you used to dealing with big business and dealing with a hardware manufacturer.
You’re also gaining exposure to their working practices which can be so beneficial in colouring the way you do things yourself. There are inevitably more processes to deal with than self publishing on PC or Mac, but you really do earn your stripes and the barriers for entry are reasonably low, the main difficulties being getting your head around the TRCs and approval process. :o)
Publishing on Sony platforms is great, and while it’s not as easy as creating a game for PC, for those who want to work on the consoles, minis are a great way of getting a foot on the ladder.
G.S: What do you think of the U.K development scene, both in terms of
A.E: Everyone’s lamenting the UK dev scene at the moment and there’s a lot of talk about brain drain. However, I think our indie scene in particular is really healthy and lots of studios are making awesome games over here. Rocksteady are the first that spring to mind!
I think it’s so tempting for the press to latch on to negative stories, particularly in this country, but are tax breaks really the biggest issue we’re facing? Perhaps education is the real issue?
I applaud the recent pledges to improve the computer science syllabus in schools, and hopefully that’ll arm the UK well for the future, but I still think there’s a lot to celebrate right now.
Many thanks to Laughing Jackal for their participation in the series. More indie developer interviews soon!