Johannes Graff Interview

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Revision as of 17:59, 13 December 2013 by Bilalxia (talk | contribs) (Interview Part 1: The Early Years)
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A brief history of Duranik

German Indie studio Duranik is composed of brothers Roland & Johannes Graf. The studio derives it's name by combining Dürrsoft + Meranik. Elder brother Roland is the lead coder while Johannes is responsible for the graphical work and level design.

While Duranik might seem like a new name, especially for the Dreamcast Scene the brothers have been part of the video game industry for decades. Their debut Dreamcast title Sturmwind is actually a spiritual successor to 1997's Atari Jaguar Freeware game called Native.

One of the reasons why the dev team has gravitated towards Dreamcast is because it was possible to publish games on it without buying expensive development system the bulk of the game is made with a highly customized version of Cryptic Allusion's KallistiOS along with other free tools.

When not making games Roland works as a Network Administrator and resides roughly between Stuttgart and Munich while younger brother works as a Graphic artist for a video game company in Vienna. The pair's top 5 Dreamcast games are Under Defeat, Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, Ikaruga and Rez.

Interview Part 1: The Early Years

Before we start the interview can you please tell me a little bit about the Etymology of the name Duranik? What were Dürrsoft & Meranik? Does it mean anything?

I can´t exactly remember why we came up with the name "Duranik". I think it is a pure fantasy name without any deeper meaning. Maybe this Dürrsoft and Meranik came from my brother. Its really a long time since we use this name. I think probably 20 years or more.

Duranik has a rich history that spans 2 decades. So let's turn the clock back before we talk about Sturmwind. Can you recall the moment when the Graf brothers decide to be game designers and not just game players?

We got an Atari ST around 1986 for Christmas. Our friends had the Amstrad CPC so we played a little around with these before we got our own computer. Back in those times it was always special to see something new for your machine.

So we were typing in listings from the computer magazines, sometimes taking hours and days for a little program or game. To get this running after many hours was something very special. Downloading megabytes of data these days - you can´t even imagine how great it was getting something new for your machine every couple of weeks or even months.

The ST was a great computer to start programming on your own. Easy to pick up and the hardware was simple and clean to begin with. At the beginning we did simple games in GFA Basic and later in STOS, non of these stuff was ever released though ;).

1986 is almost 30 years ago, you must have been like 10 years old when you bought your first home computer and you had been playing around with a friends computer before you had yours. Wow, you guys were born to be programmers but was it simply the love of mathematics and calculations that inspired you to tinker with code or was it some video game?

It was just fascinating, something you had never seen before. One of the first things I saw in terms of computer games was summer games running on a C64 somewhere in school. The animation, the graphics it all looked awesome. And the best of all: it was a lot of fun to control the player sprites on screen.

Being a Sega Aficionado I have to ask what was your first Sega experience?

The first time I heard or saw something from Sega was the Sega Master System. It was sold in Germany also around this time. The computer and video game magazines also wrote previews and game reviews for it. I have to say I was not terribly impressed with it. The computers at that time seemed to be much more interesting and it was very expensive and if you bought a couple of games with it even more.

A couple of years later the Mega Drive was much more popular and we bought it very early.

Any good memories with the MegaDrive? What did you think of all the accessories and upgrades?

Off course. The Mega Drive is a great machine back in the 90s and still today. We bought it with Castle of Illusion and Revenge of Shinobi. Lots of fun.

Editor note: Fun fact. Before Dreamcast Duranik considered MegaDrive as a possible platform for Sturmwind.

The Mega CD looked very interesting but it was very expensive and it had a bad reputation because of all these grainy FMV games. With the CD add on they did a bad job with the marketing in my opinion because it had some great hardware with a very good blitter. Most of the magazines did not mention these additional pieces at all. The MEGA CD was a very complex additional console on its own. The still only 64 colors out of 512 out of the box certainly had a big impact on the machine. For the 32x, well it was just to late and to expensive. A simpler addon cart with something like the Virtua Racing DSP 2 years earlier would probably been enough to get some more eye-candy games with lots of scaling and rotation effects.

That is a very interesting point. But it is all in the past now and Sega fans do wish a lot of things would've been done differently between 94 - 98. I supposed they couldn't handle being thrust into the top spot. Started acting like cocaine addicts. But let's circle back to Duranik. What was your experience with 5th Generation console? The big 3 were not for you. Which is probably why you upgraded to Atari Jaguar?

Well the Jaguar was available before those other machines, it was released end of 1993, the same year as the 3DO but 12 months before PSX/Saturn. As we had other Atari machines like the ST and Falcon it was just natural to be interested in the Jaguar. Later we modded the machine to transfer and execute code.

Personally I didn't like this generation that much. At one point we had a PSX but it wasn't used all that much, we played a little with it but no comparison to the Mega Drive or SNES days. Never had a Saturn back in the 90´s but we bought a couple of them some time ago. For me the N64 was one of the most disappointing machines of all time. It was hyped beyond anything seen before and most of the games looked really bad, muddy textures, the polygon count and frame rate were below the old PSX and all covered in fog. The gaming magazines printing all this glossy SGI rendered pictures and claiming the game looks exactly like this was very funny ;)

A single level demo of a shooter similar to Sturmwind was made for it. It was released as freeware though, how come Duranik did not continue development on Jaguar? Jaguar is free to develop for unlike Dreamcast which legally requires a license.

Native for the Jaguar was developed in 96/97, at this time it was not easily possible to release games for the machine. Like most consoles the Jaguar has a security encryption to ensure only software developed with a license could be released. This encryption key was not available and we didn't want to risk to develop a game for a long time without the possibility to release it. Years later these keys were released to the public, so today it is easy to create new Jaguar cartridges and Cd's. I See, I always thought the key was released fairly yearly.

So after the native demo you guys disappeared for a very long time. Resurfacing in 2004 with Alpine Games; A game inspired by Winter Sports. Was this your first commercial release?

Alpine Games was also developed over a couple of years. This is only a hobby for us like for others playing with toy trains or model planes. We don't have the pressure to release something every year. Alpine Games was the first game that was a commercial release, as it is released on a cartridge, there is no other way around it. If you have developed something over such a long time you just need to release it as a physical release these days because a huge part of the fans are collectors and you can not collect a download.

True. I am fascinated with the fact that it was released on Lynx cartridges.

I can understand indie developers releasing games on compact disc's. The whole reason the indie DC scene still exists is because of Dreamcast's ability to play CD-R's. If the DC was only compatible with Giga Disc's, it probably wouldn't have existed. Even then developers have a hard time releasing games. Can you talk about how you went about releasing multiple games for Lynx?

You are right, if it would have been GD-Rom only it would have probably been impossible or at least very difficult for post Sega releases, look at the Saturn, is there any unofficial CD release for this machine? And it doesn't even have an exotic disc format. On the Lynx we only released Alpine Games, the other cartridge is called "Alpine Games Bonus Cartridge", it was created for the hi-score contest and later also sold as there was constant requests for it. It consists of a couple of demos and not included events. There were only 512kb memory available so we had to cut some stuff out of the game to make it fit. So how did you go about producing cartridges? Can you discuss the technology employed in order to release Alpine Games?

The cartridges are produced by a German Lynx fellow, he did all the PCB design and produced some custom flash carts for us to finish the game. As we are not hardware guys it would have not been possible to do this on our own. The fanbase consists of a couple of hundred people, so its possible to do this stuff "by hand". The Lynx itself is a simple 8 bit machine with a beefed up blitter and sprite logic to allow some fancy zooming effects, the hardware itself is easy and very programmer friendly, in fact I would recommend it to everyone who wants to get his feet wet with some old school console programming. So these cartridges were made from scratch by some German fellow? 'How about giving a shout out to the guy who made the cartridges? Lars Baumstark is doing the cartridges, he created the first open Lynx Devkit with Bastian Schick, without their work the new games would be very hard to create. They did this to create a kit as an aid for driving schools, the Lynx was used as some sort of teaching device, but that was many years ago.

I am a Millennial so through out my life I have seen Sega and Nintendo duke it out and now I am seeing Sony and Microsoft go toe to toe. I always viewed Atari as a long forgotten relic and it is absolutely amazing to see that it holds such a strong place in the hearts of Gen Y. Do the Graf brothers have any plans to continue working on Atari hardware? Have you check out Skunkboard V3/Ghostboard by Harmless Lion/Goat Store Publishing? We have some dev devices for various machines, also some Skunkboards but as we just finished Sturmwind it is not likely that we start something new right now, we are currently just looking around for interesting ideas and machines.

Interview Part 2

So when did development formally resume development for Native?

Development never did resume. It was stopped after the demo was released. Sturmwind is a completely different game, well the same people developed the game and it shares the same genre. There was no code or art assets reused, everything was started from scratch.

So I guess the more appropriate response question would be when did work on Sturmwind formally start?

Where any other platforms considered for the game in pre-production?

We started working on Sturmwind in the end of 2006 beginning of 2007. The first couple of months were just for creating some test graphics. Real programming started in 2007. At the beginning we were looking at the Mega Drive as a possible platform. Production of cartridges seemed to difficult and Mega CD to exotic so we went with the Dreamcast instead.

Now we all know that Max Scharl publicly revealed the game on German National Television show Neues in December 2010. When did you start approaching publishers? Did you consider any other publishers such as Hucast, Goat Store Publishing or self publishing?

We talked to Redspotgames about two or three years before release. They heard somehow that we were developing a Dreamcast game and told us they would be interested in publishing the game. We did not talk to any other publisher as far as I remember. The only other option we considered was publishing it ourselves but as it seemed to be to much work to send and handle all packages and payment we went with the publisher option.

3 years before the release? Sturmwind was released in April 2013. So basically Redspotgames contact you approximately 6 months before the Neues reveal?

No it was much earlier, more like two years before the "Neues" Show. But as we knew it would still take a lot of time to finish the game there was no need to sign a contact with any publisher.