Developer Interview: Duranik

Sturmwind is widely regarded as one of the most impressive independently titles on the Dreamcast, and having played it extensively I would be inclined to agree. Published in 2013 by RedSpotGames, Sturmwind was released to almost worldwide critical acclaim and popular website and YouTube/Dailymotion channel Classic Game Room even went as far as naming it as their Game of the Year.

I admit that I came to the party a little late, having only played Sturmwind for the first time earlier in 2015, but I thought it would be cool to catch up with Johannes Graf of developer Duranik to find out a little more about the team, the Atari Jaguar CD origins of Sturmwind and to ask more about the mysterious upcoming title Midsummer.
DCJY: Hi Johannes, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. First off, could you tell us a little bit about Duranik? Who makes up the team and what are your roles?

Johannes Graf: We are two brothers. Each one is doing a different part, more or less split into coding and graphics/level and game design. For Sturmwind, there were also a couple of other people contributing in different areas. For example 505 did the soundtrack and we were also happy for the help of a very enthusiastic DC fan who did endless testing and a lot of other things.

What’s the history of Duranik? How and when did you form and why?

We always loved computer games, and as we got an Atari ST from our parents for Christmas many many years ago, we just started making little games for it. In those days there wasn't much software around. You were typewriting in the listings from the computer magazines to get new stuff, which is hard to imagine today with thousands of new apps every day flooding the App Store for free!
Sturmwind's backdrops are jaw dropping at times
So what’s your history with the Dreamcast? Were you fans of the system when it was contemporary? Did you get in at the beginning or was it later?

I got the Dreamcast as a birthday gift back then when it was released. I think Soul Calibur was included. Of course it was much better looking than any PlayStation game at that time.

We’re big fans of Sturmwind here at DCJY, so we’d like to talk a little about that. Firstly, it’s known that the game started out on the Atari Jaguar CD as Native - where did the idea for a Jaguar indie game come from?

As we were coming from an Atari 'background' having owned and used an Atari ST and Falcon for many years, there was always big interest for the next machine...which was the Jaguar. As we didn't have an official devkit or documentation we just had to use the little information and tools that were freely available at this time. As the Jaguar was very strong in the 2D department a shoot 'em up was an obvious choice for the project.
Native for Atari Jaguar CD is stylistically similar to Sturmwind
At what point did you decide to shift development of Sturmwind from the Jaguar to the Dreamcast? 

It wasn't really shifted, there are many years between the two projects and we did other stuff in between. The only thing Native on the Atari Jaguar and Sturmwind on Dreamcast really have in common is that both are horizontal scrolling shoot 'em ups. All the code, graphics etc. are completely different.

I see. So how much more freedom did you have with the Dreamcast hardware?

Well, compared to the Jaguar the Dreamcast is of course much newer technology and therefore much more advanced and powerful. On the Jaguar the game was heavily using the so-called Object Processor which is a 2D pixel paint engine. The Dreamcast game uses the PowerVR hardware and everything is polygon based, so the backgrounds and everything else could be easily scaled, rotated and coloured with different colours using vertex colours.

If Native/Sturmwind had been finished for Jaguar, how different do you think it would have been on Atari’s hardware? What limitations did you face that weren’t an issue on Dreamcast?

As mentioned above, Native and Sturmwind are not the same. but if you compare them, the Jaguar version would be more 'static,' the Dreamcast game is changing the scrolling direction and rotating the whole background around quite a few time. The rotating parts especially would not be so easy to do on the Jaguar.

That makes sense. Obviously there are several generations between the two systems so to compare them isn't really fair. Moving on, was there anything you wanted to include in Sturmwind, but couldn’t?

There is always stuff you want to include or improve, but at one point you have to draw a line to finish a game. The project started without any kind of 3D projection, but later more and more 3D stuff - especially in the backgrounds - was implemented. I would have loved to do even more here but this would have cost too much time. At the beginning we also had planned to include a two player mode, but this was difficult to test as we are not living close to each other...we were even living in different countries so it would have been very hard to test and fine tune a two player mode. A Boss Rush mode would have also been nice and not too hard to implement but as said above, it had to be finished at some point!
Meanwhile, NORAD was busy tracking Santa's sleigh
The Jaguar is a system very close to my heart and I collect for the system. Would you consider it a ‘missed opportunity’ for Atari?

The Jaguar is a very unique system, unfortunately it was released in a difficult period. The system is still a bit old school from the programming point of view, as it was meant to be used like the console generation before like the Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo. It had some early 3D abilities but it lacked the vision of how games in the next generation would have to be coded, and unfortunately for Atari this was very different. Game development switched to larger teams, and lots of games were no longer coded in Assembler but easier languages such as C. The Jaguar was not very well suited for this. It’s still a great machine and you have to keep in mind it was basically developed by a team of three people and they even did their own RISC processors - crazy! It's a miracle the machine even exists to be honest. If the old Atari (not like it is now) would have been around longer, the machine would have been more successful I believe. It was a very small company, at the time the Jaguar was launched they had around 200-300 people. To make a comparison, their competitors could spend more money for their Christmas parties than Atari could on the development of the Jaguar.

Let's talk about another Atari system you create games for - the Lynx. How do you rate the Lynx compared to its contemporaries like the Game Gear?

The Lynx has some pros and cons compared to the Game Gear. It has more sprite shifting power and the more flexible blitter (compared to the Game Gear hardware sprites), with sprite scaling. It also has real time sprite data decompression. Sega's handheld has more colors on screen which is very nice and it has fewer limitations on the cartridge port. The Lynx has a lot of limitations accessing the ROM unfortunately, otherwise the games could look and sound much better.

Do you think the Lynx could have been capable of a version of Doom, or at the very least a decent first person shooter?

I think there is a version of Wolfenstein on the Lynx somewhere, but a Doom with ceilings and floors is probably a little too much to ask. It would certainly be very slow.
Boss battles are frequent - and impressive -  in Sturmwind
Going back to Sturmwind, the game does things that aren’t seen very often in ‘official’ releases in the shmup genre. The animated backgrounds are simply stunning. What was the process behind that?

The animation system is quite powerful and flexible. We didn't have the time to fully use all the possibilities it offers in Sturmwind. The basic idea is that we didn't create a level or game editor but do all this stuff in a 3D package. This scene file from the 3D  program is then used directly in the game. This way we can support a lot of the tools the 3D program offers, like the internal particle engine or mesh deformation tools. To recreate this in a self-made editor would have taken forever.

Sturmwind's multiple weapon/lives mechanic is quite unique. Can you explain how you came up with that?

One of the difficult or frustrating parts of a lot of these games is that your ship is often very underpowered if you lose your weapons. Therefore we thought for a long time about how we could possibly make the game more playable, especially for not so skilled players. You can easily decide which weapon you want to power up or if you want to play for score you can grab the points - it’s a bit of a variation of the system used in the 19xx series of games.

What other games in the shmup genre do you enjoy? Not just on the Dreamcast - but in general. Where did you draw inspiration for Sturmwind from?

The Gradius series and R-Type of course. I really don't like the 'bullet hell' genre at all, that's not my type of coffee. There was also some inspiration coming from old computer games like Blood Money or Wings of Death. Do you remembers them?

Not personally, but those other titles such as R-Type and Gradius most definitely and I can see the influence. As a respected indie developer for the Dreamcast, do you keep an eye on other projects currently ongoing? If so, which indie Dreamcast games interest you?

I just played around with Pier Solar a little bit as I 'bought' this from Kickstarter a while ago. Usually I look around on the Dreamcast websites now and then if there is something new.
The enigmatic image on the Midsummer website
Can you tell us anything about your next project Midsummer?

Midsummer started as a set of improvements to our engine to address a couple of shortcomings and generally improve the usability. It implements more 3D stuff like new texture formats and an enhanced scripting language. After a couple of test levels it grew to something we now call Midsummer. This is not necessarily the final name, if indeed the project will ever be released. Sturmwind was actually called Stahlgewitter until a couple of weeks before it was shown around for the first time. The first name seemed to be too hard to pronounce for every non German speaker.

Interesting stuff! Can you share if are there any other projects on the horizon for Dreamcast (or any other systems)?

As we learned from the Sturmwind announcement, it’s better to wait until a game is completely finished before talking about it. We learned a valuable lesson. It took us way longer to get it finished the way we wanted it than expected.

So patience is golden then! Away from shmups, what are your favourite games on the Dreamcast?

I didn’t play that much with the machine back then, but of course it has to be Shenmue, Rez and Ikaruga.

There has been a bit of a revival of 2D shooters on current gen of late - look at things like Soldner and Velocity. Do you think we’ll ever see Sturmwind on PS4, PS Vita or Xbox One?

Short answer: No. There is simply no time to do it.

That's a shame. One final question: I don't suppose you know the identity of The Dreamcast Barber?!

You seem to be quite a bit of an detective here! But I have no idea who he is, honestly ;)

Well, that's a bit disappointing. I was hoping you'd have his Dreamarena email address. 
Oh well - the search for The Barber continues! In any case, massive thanks to Johannes from Duranik for taking the time to answer our questions. We hope this has shed some light on the development of Sturmwind and the potential future releases from Duranik.

Further Information
Duranik Website
RedSpotGames Store
Sturmwind at Play-Asia.com

Previous Developer Interviews
Alice Dreams Tournament
Elysian Shadows
Hucast
Isotope Softworks
Retro Sumus


2 comments:

OneStar said...

Anyone know what happened to the SD card based dlc that was supposed to be coming for this game? I remember seeing a headline from a non English site saying it was canceled. I was hoping to see more sturmwind. And SD card compability would have been awesome

Adrian said...

I read before that the sd card DLC was cancelled as not enough people had modded dreamcasts to support this feature. I would have paid for an on disc set of extras myself though.