2nd Studio is an indie studio based in Denmark, Viborg. The company was founded in the summer of 2013 by Nikki Starostka and Dennis Jensen. The story of Jazon And The Dead starts in a dark room in Copenhagen in 2013. “The development evolved into a struggle for funding while trying to keep the project moving forward,” Dennis recalls as he shares the story of this action-adventure game.
A Game From Sketch
The story of our company actually starts back in 2011, when I was in school studying at the Animation Workshop in Viborg to become a CG artist. Back then, I was already interested in starting my own company and also wanted to gather a strong team to create our student film. Nikki and I were good friends, and we both had high ambitions and expectations about our work, so we teamed up with Tommy Kinnerup, a great artist. We always had the dream of making our own projects, and the student film was to become our very first one. The result was a short animated movie called “Out of the Ordinary”.
In April 2013, I was fiddling around in my room while working as a CG artist for EUCROMA, an organization teaching students about game development and trans-media. I like to do quick sketches for fun, and I made this one about a guy killing zombies and saving ladies. He was running on a huge horde of zombies, with a girl on his shoulder and a shotgun in his hand. I liked this idea, and I’ve always been a huge fan of zombies. So what was supposed to be just a quick sketch evolved into a game idea.
I pitched the idea to Nikki, and we started working on concepts and ideas. Jazon And The Dead was born. We had a tiny room where we worked till very late. I was sleeping right there and the only thing besides my bed was a desk where we worked. We applied for funding after one week of hard work, but the project wasn’t ready yet and the competition was too high.
Gathering a Team with No Money
We saved up some money and decided to found a company (having worked on the game full-time for three months), and then to apply for funding through government organizations. The company was started in a little office in Viborg. It’s the perfect place because it has a nice environment and a lot of people from the animation and games industry. Besides that, it’s a lot cheaper to live in than Copenhagen. The best thing was that we were accepted into an incubation course, which meant we didn’t pay rent for our office space. We also got in touch with a game consultant, Emil Kjær. His help turned out to be amazing. He was giving us feedback on the game and consulted how we should approach funding and communication with people. Now all we needed was a team.
Gathering a team with no money was a challenge. We had to convince people that our idea was amazing and worth working on for free. Normally, we would pay people, but since we didn’t have the means, we had no choice. We had an ambition of getting two programmers and a music composer. I had a friend named Matt Barr who had previously been involved in different game jams and had experience in both game development and art and graphics. Matt had a friend, Josh Long, and they were filling the roles of programmers. Matt was a link between our engine Unity and the 3D assets because he has knowledge in both areas. So it made a perfect team. We still needed a music composer, but we started developing our game immediately, because the time was ticking.
Feedback Emails Brought a Composer
We decided early that we wanted everything in the development to be transparent. So we often made updates on social media, and shared our work in progress on different websites and forums. This resulted in a lot of response and feedback, some of the emails we got were even from people willing to help out. One day, we received an email from a guy called Johnny Knittle. Just the day before, I started contacting different composers to ask if they wanted to participate in the project, and this was exactly what Johnny was offering. He became part of the project instantly, and his sense of how the music should fit, along with the ability to compose for the mood and tone in the game, was just amazing! It took the game to a whole new level.
Making Things Work With 33% Budget
In the middle of September, our deadline came. Even though we worked very hard, the project was way too ambitious for only three months. We had a basic prototype, but it wasn’t resembling our vision of the game.
We were running out of money and one of the programmers was going to work on another project and wasn’t able to continue. Despite only having a prototype, we decided to apply for funding anyways. During October, we had to live with almost zero money, so we started looking for work for hire, just to get some money. We basically took every job available, from web designs to music videos. Not perfect, but we had no choice.
There were a few responses and some funding, but not nearly as much as we needed. Only 33 percent of the budget. However, we got contacted by a big publisher company that showed interest in the game, and this triggered motivation to continue. We spread the budget thin. Nikki and I were working on the project part-time. We found a new programmer called Kasper, whom we were able to give an office space. Even though we had no money, we made it work.
Comic-Inspired Art in 3D
One of our biggest challenges was to achieve the look we were aiming for. It’s inspired by comic book artists like Mike Mignola, which is very graphical and shape-based. Therefore, it was important that our characters had a clear silhouette. Since our game is in 3D, it was a very difficult process. The Walking Dead game series is also inspired by comic books, but we wanted to take the look one step further: dark ink lines in the texture and hard, dark shadows. The blood was to stand out and not be affected by the shadows, and it should have a toon-shaded look.
The decision of showing the process and taking the transparent approach to development was one of the best choices we did. Even though we feared that if we failed people would point fingers and laugh, it showed the world that we existed and gave us a lot in return.
The team is still working on the game in-between work-for-hire projects. They have a playable prototype, and are applying for funding at various places. The game has recently been showcased at Select/Start Play in Viborg, Denmark. If everything goes as planned, the game will be in production in early 2015. If they get the funding they need, it will be published on PS4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.