Joining The Switch Effect on today’s Industry Interviews is Dennis Jensen, co-founder of the Danish-based game graphic company, 2nd Studio. With their recent project, KnightOut, the player and his soon to be ex friend build a castle and then fight each other to defend it. This can be done either by long distance damages or close hand-to-hand combat. With such a creative game on the horizon for the Nintendo Switch, we had to learn more about this title and studio.
Firstly can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you do?
Hi, I’m Dennis. Coffee drinker, artist, game programmer and gamer in that order. I’m the CTO at 2nd Studio which I also co-founded. I’m educated as a computer graphic artist, however the last couple of years I taught myself visual programming. So on the project KnightOut I’ve been “the code guy”, but now and then I go back into creating some art; I just can’t help it.
What got you into game development and how did your company 2nd Studio come about?
Me and Nikki co-founded 2nd Studio in 2013. We have both been into video games since we were little, however our education is focused more towards animated films and VFX; so that’s where we started. We did a lot of commercials and short films, but we always knew we wanted to steer our company towards making games, and preferable our own games. While we worked on films, we built up our skills within game development by working on our own game Jazon and the Dead. We then started to get hired to do graphics for different games, and that all started when Disney contacted us and we saw that as an opportunity to focus only on game development.
How many people are on your team and how long has KnightOut been in development?
We are a very small team consisting of three people. I’m mostly working on game mechanics and systems. I function as the technical director. Nikki is the art director; he created the style for the game, user interface and all the art assets. Both of us direct the game and we often discuss new game mechanics or the direction of the game. We are a great team because we are very alike but, our approaches to different ideas are different. However the values we appreciate in a game is very similar and our vision is aligned.
Mike Raznick is our third addition to the team; he works freelance on the project. He is the composer and is currently working on the score where we will record very unique instruments. We will have more info about that in a upcoming update. He is amazing to work with and we can’t wait to hear how the soundtrack will evolve.
We are also talking with some external developers, but we can’t say anything about that yet.
KnightOut has been in development since February 2017; however it was part time since we worked on different work-for-hire projects in the meantime. After the fig campaign we could focus our full attention on the project.
What inspires you in life to work on your game?
I believe games can bring people together. I remember when I was playing Little Fighter II with my brother for countless hours into the night and somehow it strengthened our relationship, even though we often became quite mad at each other. If you have a bunch of friends it can be what holds you together, the games you play, and that is amazing. We showed our game at a games expo and a dad, in his late thirties, and his son, about 8 years old, played against each other and had a blast. That somehow triggered a success feeling in me.
It’s more the cozy feeling you get when you are with friends playing a game, having a good time that inspired this title.
Further to that, how did your game end up in the style and genre that it has?
We worked on Jazon and the Dead for a long time; it’s a dark game with a deep narrative, but also with humor. A year ago right at Halloween we ran a crowdfunding campaign which failed. That was a hard blow but our mentality is not to give up. If anything it inspired us and we reconsidered how we wanted to use our energy. We kind of went that opposite direction with KnightOut. It should be a game with a very small scope, light hearted and instead of a game that’s driven by its narrative we wanted the gameplay to be our main focus. We also wanted to be certain that KnightOut was a game we could complete ourselves without any external help or investment.
The art style is inspired by miniature models, stop motion films and vinyl toys, with somewhat simplified textures and a big scale to small objects. It’s also a good choice since everything can get a bit small on the screen so it’s a good idea to have exaggerated proportions for everything to be easily readable. We want the game to be for the whole family and have joyful feel to it.
Your plan is to release your game on Nintendo’s newest console the Nintendo Switch. What about your game would make it a great fit for the hybrid console?
We started working on the game in February and Switch was announced a couple months before, but after the first week when we had a playable prototype it was clear that the game would be perfect for Switch. That led to us reaching out to Nintendo in March with our month old prototype to become Switch developers.
Switch is great because it’s so portable and it encourages people to bring it along and play with friends. You can even play two players right out of the box and our game at that point was only local multiplayer. When you buy a Switch and KnightOut, you will be able to play right away because of the simple controls and because of its simple nature it only takes about five minutes to get into the game. We are really confident that Switch is the best platform for our game.
Would you say that your fans and perhaps critics have shaped the work you put into this game?
We listen to our backers and we often get great ideas from them. We also have some ideas to involve fans and backers even more with the development. Actually, we just started live streaming where you can follow the development and comment on what we are making. Our main focus is the players and we believe if we work together with our players we can make an even better game. We are releasing the game in closed alpha soon and making it available to backers on Steam.
Mostly fellow game developers have given us critique and that helped shaped the game. We often have play testing at our office or at home with friends which then help shape the game. I want to add that friends and people you know will be more gentle and often only say positive things about your game, so you need to lead them a bit and ensure them that you want honest feedback.
Where can people find you online currently, for the people who we are curious and want to learn more?
We are working on updating our website. Until then you can follow us on twitter @2ndstudioAni or on Facebook. As mentioned we also do live streaming at least twice a week on Twitch.
How did you feel when you found out that your Fig campaign was 204% successful?
It was amazing! In the last couple of hours we got a few thousand and we reached our stretch goal with the extended soundtrack by Mike Raznick, which I was really hoping for. Actually we thought it was over and we wouldn’t reach it so we went for some beers in the evening to celebrate. When we got back we had 3K more. Let’s just say those beers tasted a lot better than expected.
Finally, is there anyone you want to give a special shout out too, perhaps another dev team or another crowdfunding page that caught your eye?
I want to say thank you to Fig for still believing in us even though our first campaign failed and the help they brought to the project. Especially Justin Woodward who suggested we should make a Fig campaign. He is also making a cool game called Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch.
Our fellow developers at Moped Games who are also creating a cool multiplayer game called Scuffle Scoundrels; it’s currently on Steam in early access.
Last but not least a special shout-out to The Animation Workshop and Arsenalet which was our home for 4 years while we built our company and struggled to find a foothold. Both Emil Kjær and Adonis Flokiou have been in charge of the game incubation and made it possible for us to go to different game related events.
In general game developers are just super cool and friendly.
Dennis, thank you again for taking the time to speak with The Switch Effect. We look forward to the release of KnightOut.