photo credit: Dan Maslanka
So the other day I was thinking to myself “Hey I’ve not written a blog for the Dlala site in a while”. Then I looked. Over a year ago?!? That is bat-shit crazy.
So much has happened that I don’t even know where to start. What I do know is that I’m going to have to get Gem (Producer) to check this before I post it to make sure that I’m not breaching any legal agreements!
Let’s go back, back before even that last blog.
So in June of 2015 we signed a pre-production agreement on what would be the biggest thing we’ve ever done. Biggest in sense of scope, money and team size. We had a 3 month pre-production period and if that went well then we got the full production contract. The guys absolutely smashed pre-production, we went well beyond the scope of what was asked and created something I could not be more proud of. With the pre-production “vertical slice” done it was time for “the meeting”. Craig and I flew out to Los Angeles, where the company was based, and we, as part of a team, were pitching to a gigantic boardroom full of people. Craig and I played through the game, talked through the pitch and then, when it got to the business/money side of things, we were asked to leave the room. We were told this bit would take about 30-40 minutes and then they would make the decisions. So we went downstairs to the chill out area and we waited….
Until eventually, what must have been a couple of hours later, our Executive Producer on the project, who was a godsend to us, came out with a look on his face that told us all we needed to know.
They had said no.
He walked in, he got himself a drink, he sat down.
“They said ‘yes’, we’re moving into production”. What an asshole! He 100% had convinced us purely from his body language it was a no and we got sucker punched in the nicest way possible.
All air genuinely left my body I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t get a chance to catch our breaths, we were instantly taken out to celebrate. We were so happy but we were mentally and physically drained. We got back to our hotel room and just were a pair of messes emotionally. We’d done it. The guys who had repeatedly been told we weren’t good enough had just signed a deal with one of the biggest companies in the world, on one of the biggest properties in the world. We called the guys who were still up that day and then called the others before we went to bed.
So we enjoyed the rest of our trip then flew home, we now had to wait for the contract to come in and go through all the legal teams but we had no intention of waiting so we started on Dlala Game #3.
September came around, the contract had gone through all the lawyers and we were ready to sign. So we felt that we should do it properly, and dramatically, so the 6 of us got on a plane to L.A. went to the big fancy offices of our new client/partner and signed the contract there. We enjoyed our time as a team in L.A., did the theme parks, ate great food and got to hang out with Derek (Douglas, our agent) and Bella (Derek’s assistant at the time). Then we flew home and got our heads down.
So we were working away and started ramping up as we were going. September/October found us bringing in Jade (Office Manager) and Sam T (QA), November had Rag (Senior Systems Tech) and Gem (Producer). We carried this pattern of ramping up into the new year January had Detective (Designer) and Rory (Concept Artist) and then February was Ben P (Game Developer) and Eric (Lead Animator) all coming on full time. Before we knew it we had turned into a 14 person studio, 14! How the hell did that happen.
The project itself was good but had the usual issues of working on a massive IP with a massive company. Swerves and changes along the way made it really hard for us to keep up. The time difference was a killer at times but we were happy and they were happy.
There were regular trips to L.A. to meet with the publisher, around the start of 2016 I started to get a feeling something was happening within the company.
With that feeling I started battening down the hatches, waiting for more levels of sign off before committing to external resources, prepping with Derek for what would happen in the worst and making sure that the ‘leadership team’ within Dlala was prepared if the worst should happen…
March 30th 2016…the worst happened.
I got the call quite late at night, the publisher was killing all console titles effective immediately. Including us. A handful of months away from the proposed launch date. There would be no transitional period, no wrapping up the work. It was done. March 30th was the last day of production on Dlala Game #3. I straight away e-mailed Derek and called the leadership team to let them know. We went through a mixture of emotions, each of us in different ways. For me I’d been mentally preparing myself that this could happen for 3 months but that preparation had taken it’s toll. I gave all I had to the project, even when I felt it might not make it out. I had grown our team up to 14 people and I’d just bought a house and had a mortgage to pay.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I dreaded going in to the office and having to break the hearts of the team. Some people I knew would be able to handle it better – me and Loudon had been through this with Stellar Dawn/Mechscape numerous times whilst at Jagex. The original 5 had been through this when we were at MS. But there were people that this was their first game and their first jobs out of university. So March 31st I went into the office (thank god it wasn’t a day later) and I got all the team round and I ripped off the band-aid and I ripped it off fast. I explained there was nothing more that we could do and that we had people inside the publisher desperately fighting to keep us alive but it was a blanket decision. They were out of the console game.
I was prepared to let the team have some mourning time, but they didn’t want it. They came in on April 1st and we started fresh. You never would have known that they’d just had a bit of them cut out they just wanted to do what was best for Dlala and they hit the ground running.
So the team was, and still is, working away on our new concept. We’ve been doing the rounds pitching around. We got deep down the line, then they would fall through. We would get lots of interest then the interest would disappear. We went out to San Francisco and Germany and at one point we had 13 active pitches and no evenings. But this is all part of it, and always has been. The important thing was that it wasn’t holding up the project and the guys were doing a great job. We found people stepping up and exhibiting leadership skills and taking a lot of strain off of us.
We expanded the office into the building next door to give us some ‘non-work’ social and meeting space for the guys and gals too!
So where does that leave us now? Well we’re hoping to close co-funding on our current project very shortly and we’re enjoying ourselves. We’re very proud of what we’ve built so far and can’t wait to share it, sooner rather than later. I would post loads right now but I don’t want to compromise any deals! Soon as we’ve signed and we’ve agreed on our ‘social’ presence for the project then I will update the site. I’m looking to use the site more regularly, do some features on each staff member and just some general stories about Dlala!
Thank you all for your continued support and hope you have a good Christmas period!