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Interview: Jayenkai, the Indie Developer Behind AGameAWeek

NeonPlat AdventuresJayenkai, the popular indie game developer behind, many popular indie games and recent iOS game SpikeDislike2 was kind enough to give Coin Arcade an extensive interview on what got him started developing games, what his favourite creations are, where he sees the indie game industry going and a variety of questions.

CA: Hey there, Jayenkai! Thanks for taking this interview for us, I’ve personally been following your creations for some years now. When did you start making games and do you remember what your first few games were? What got you interested in creating games in the first place?

JG: The earliest ‘game’ I can remember making was around about 1987/88 or thereabouts.  My family bought an Amstrad CPC some time in the early 80s, and it’d been ‘the family computer’, but when we moved to a new house the Amstrad got placed into my bedroom.  This was the start of something special, as I would spend hours with the computer, messing around in its Basic environment instead of playing the games like I was supposed to.

The Amstrad came with a massive manual, which wasn’t simply a ‘how to run Manic Miner’ guide and instead went on to describe its entire programming language, giving hundreds of working examples and even containing full games if you had the patience to sit and type them in. Nights spent reading the manual and days typing in example codes led to a wonderful understanding of Basic, and I grew to love the language, as well as the system. I’d played the Cascade 50 games, loaded them into Basic, fiddled about with their innards, and knew it didn’t take a lot of effort to make something playable.

The first proper game I remember making was based on the board game HeroQuest. I recreated the board using ASCII graphics and turned it into a fun little action maze game, where you had to run around avoiding the bad guys… the bad guys being the standard ascii sad face, and you being the happy face, obviously.

It sounds impressive. It really wasn’t! But it’s the first time I can remember setting myself a game making task and getting anything remotely resembling it out the other side.

CA: What made you decide to start up Did you just discover that you could develop decent games in a relatively short time period and how soon after you started making games did this happen?

JG: AGameAWeek grew out of the earlier Wednesday Workshop. At an old coding site, CodersWorkshop (now defunct) I started off a weekly coding challenge. Each week I’d set a theme, and anyone who could be bothered would try to write a game in that theme.

It started off well enough — about 10 or so people attempted week one — but with it being weekly, people grew tired of it pretty quickly.  I’m a stickler for these things though, so I kept it going, even when it was obvious that nobody else cared.  Week after week, hundreds of challenges, years worth of games!

CodersWorkshop died and was replaced by Socoder and I kept posting Wednesday Workshop challenges there for a long while.  Then by about Workshop #200 it was obvious that I was the only one who was bothering to do it anymore. It was about that time that I decided to morph it into AGameAWeek.  I figured, if this was something I was kinda managing to do, I might as well turn it into a proper brand.

AGameAWeek is currently up to year five and there’s about 3 or 4 years of Wednesday Workshops before that. So, yeah, I guess I’ve been doing this for quite a while, now!

CA: How many games roughly do you think you’ve made now?

JGMy archive currently contains 280 freeware games that I’ve created since around about when I first started using BlitzBasic on the PC, in 2002. Most, if not all of the games on the archive are still in fully working condition, and should be relatively playable on modern PCs.

As well as those, I’ve got some old “Windows Smartphone” games from about 2005 or thereabouts that aren’t on the archive because Windows Mobile changed so much they don’t run anymore. Then there’s the older stuff.  I’ve yet to collect and archive it all properly, but I have mountains of Amiga disks and a handful of Amstrad CPC disks that I’ve yet to begin looking through. I’m sure there’s a lot of old junk in those files!

In all, there’s probably about 350, if I could be bothered to dig out all of the old stuff.  But for the most part we’ll stick with the 280 that you can actually see and play.

CA: Of all your games, what’s your favourite five that you’ve made?

JG: 1. JNKPlat 2010 – The culmination of 13 years worth of building and rebuilding a curious platform puzzle game.

2. NeonPlat 2 – A fun single screen arcade action platform game.  If you’ve an arcade cabinet setup, shove this in there!

3. Alien Deathmatch 2 – My attempt at the Arena Shooter genre, but with graphics that look a little like Alien Breed from the Amiga.

4. Microbe2 – The reverse of the Arena Shooter, with you spinning wildly around the walls, and all the “baddies” in the middle.

5. SpikeDislike2 – A silly game with a bouncing ball, which is maddingly addictive!

CA: Would you say your five most popular/well-received games are the same five, or would they be entirely different games?

JG: Out of the five above, NeonPlat, Alien Deathmatch and SpikeDislike have proved popular, whilst Microbes is an acquired taste, and… well, people seem to hate the fact that JNKPlat is more puzzle than it is platformer. People are fussy!

NeonPlat 2Horizontal Shooter ReduxBlockman GetsMunky’s Block and Retro Raider have proven popular.

CA: Does a game always take you a week to make, or are they often completed in a shorter timeframe? What’s the longest development period you’ve had for a game?

JG: I can typically rhyme a game off within the space of a weekend.  You can usually tell when I do! If I know what sort of game I’m tackling early on in a week, I’ll usually give it the extra few days work and see how it turns out, but for the most part they’re weekend jobs.

The longest project I can think of, recently was of course NeonPlat Adventures. This massive sequel to NeonPlat 2 was my epic swan song for the end of AGameAWeek Year 3. I’d managed to make 52 games so rapidly that I found I had a couple of months to spare and so set myself a very specific two-month deadline in which to make the biggest wildest platforming adventure game that I’d ever tackled. The amount of work that went into that game was some of the most intense work I’d attempted in years, but the game kinda dropped off everyone’s radar and nobody noticed it.

CA: What do you feel are your personal best achievements or accolades of your indie game career?

JG: Nobody’s played NeonPlat Adventures, everybody hates JNKPlat, and hardly anybody’s heard of AGameAWeek!  But honestly, those are some of my biggest achievements.  That I’ve built such large games, within small timescales and attempted to do this crazy AGameAWeek thing, even if its not always worked out, it’s still something that I look back on and am proud of. Even if nobody’s heard of 95% of my games, the thought that they’re bound to have played at least one of them, somewhere, without knowing it’s one of mine, it makes me want to keep going.

CA: What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced in the past and what obstacles do you think you’ll face in the future?

JG: My biggest obstacle is myself! I’m my own worst enemy, I need to hire some heartless PR maniac or something!

As well as that, I have ‘minor’ artistic issues. I’m approximately as artistic as a carrot.  My sprites are ‘retro’ because I can’t draw! I’ve learned through the years to hide it underneath a cloak of retroness and, for the most part, I think I’m getting away with it!

CA: Where do you see the indie game industry heading in the future and where do you view its place will be in mainstream gaming?

JG: Indie doesn’t ‘go’ anywhere. It just is.  It might seem like the indie games revolve around themes, but that’s mostly because those are the current favourite themes and all the big blogs are out specifically hunting for them and games that are like ‘the next big thing’.

In reality, there are thousands of indie games happening every month, but when only a handful of them are getting the exposure, it results in a narrow view of the overall arena. With things like the Apple and Android AppStores and Steam’s GreenLight, we’re seeing self-publishing become a major thing.  We’re more or less going back to the old days where budget games were available for under £5 and were created by small teams or sole developers.

Indie isn’t going to replace the big budget AAA titles but I think as it becomes easier for people to buy them, it should become more commonplace for players to have a couple of indie games in their collections. Just don’t expect to sell a million overnight!

CA: What are several of your favourite indie games developed by others?

JG: Annoyingly, coding AGameAWeek tends to limit my playtime, so most of my favourites are still from pre-AGameAWeek days.

I always list CaffeineKid’s remake of Super Obliteration as one of my favourites.  It’s a cracking little platform based arena shooter. As well as that, Nyarluu’s Magnetic Shaving Derby is always great for killing a few minutes, even if I’m absolutely terrible at it — and then, of course, there’s the good old favourite Icy Tower!

CA: How long did SpikeDislike2 take to make and how well has it been received thus far?

JG: It might not surprise many to learn that something like SpikeDislike2 isn’t all that complex! I planned to start SpikeDislike2 during March 2012.  I’d had a few ideas that weren’t workable in SpikeDislike’s engine and knew the sequel could allow for them if I tackled game modes first, as opposed to having the simple options that SpikeDislike did.

With a year’s worth of game mode ideas rumbling around in my head, I figured it’d probably take a good number of weeks to get most of SpikeDislike2 done.  I opted to make it my “big February Game”, and it was mostly done in about a week!

I then spent a couple more weeks bulking it up a bit more, adding the particles and doing the unlocking and other nice things that I don’t bother to normally add to AGameAWeek games. It’s turned out really well and I’ve since expanded it a little more, so an iOS update should be popping up in about a week or so.

(Thanks to Jayenkai for taking the time for a Q&A with us – be sure to check his weekly games at AGameAWeek and follow his Twitter.)


About Ryan Brown

Commonly going by the alias 'Toadsanime' online, Ryan Brown acts as Coin Arcade's editor and primary writer. With an avid interest in various aspects of gaming -- including general gaming, indie gaming, retro gaming and merchandise collecting -- he aspires to build a career in the video game journalism industry. He also writes his own descriptions as if talking about somebody else, apparently.

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