[NOTE: If you haven’t read Craig’s post please read it first HERE]

So where do I even begin.

As a man yet to be married, yet to be divorced it’s not something I can relate to. However, I imagine this is very much a part of that feeling. As you’ve now read Craig has made the decision to leave Dlala and pursue a new career in teaching. Break ups are not always clean, not always amicable and rarely either mutual. Whilst I can’t claim to say that the last one of those 3 has been ticked the other 2 definitely have. Now I believe in this situation the CEO of the company is meant to make a formal, clear messaged and serious statement wishing luck etc… But to do that any further than these first few lines would be a disservice to not only Craig but to me and to Dlala. So instead I’m going to talk about it from the personal perspective.

As with all my ramblings this is not going to be a proof read, super edited, super carefully crafted statement. I’m sitting in my home office, on Sunday 4th June. I’ve got Hit The Lights playing and I’ve got my handsome little beast of a pug Hugo on my lap and I’m just going to type from the heart.

Mine and Craig’s story starts before Dlala. If we go back to, what I believe, was 2010. I was a Game Content Developer at Jagex, working there for about 2 years. I had previously had an awesome sidekick (Hey Matt!) and had been flying pretty much solo on my most recent piece of content when a handsome young developer by the name of Craig Thomas joined the team. Then my manager made the very strange choice of assigning me as Craig’s “mentor”. Back in my day a mentor was like a work buddy that would help you get to grips with everything so you didn’t feel overwhelmed and felt like you had someone to talk to. We all had them. We all still felt overwhelmed at first. Now it was no secret to anyone there during the Stellar Dawn days that I wasn’t the most popular amongst my fellow developers. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of them were waiting for me to crash and burn. This was never the case with Craig, unlike a lot of my peers he was passionate and interested in creating awesome content within the very specific box we were working in. It wasn’t long before I was no longer needed as a mentor and Craig was moved under the lead of another part of the content team and started creating his own content. We always stayed close though. Fast forward a few months and we’re in 2011 at this point I had just accepted the job to go work at Bossa Studios with my old boss Henrique. Once I’d made the decision to go I sat with Craig and said to him that if he ever feels he wants to change jobs to give me a call.

Months past and like everyone in their 20’s I lost contact with people. Especially those at Jagex, most of my friends had moved on to other studios and the few that hadn’t we had just been batting the usual excuses of too busy. Then one day my phone rang. It was Craig. He felt his time at Jagex was coming to an end and was looking at new opportunities and was wondering if there would be any positions opening at Bossa. Now at this point I should make it clear, Craig was always the better traditional programmer out of the two of us. He had a strong background in Java whereas I was a self-taught VB guy who used to hack together games. Craig won awards and I was too busy touring with my band to worry about any of that. So, when it came to speaking to Henrique and Ric (The then CTO of Bossa) he was an easy sell. In fact, the pitch was basically “he’s like me but better and less obnoxious”. I imagine at this point Ric was probably thinking “Why the hell did we hire you then!”, which, to be fair, great question ha!

Now Craig couldn’t just join instantly as we had a hire queue for the department. At the time, we’d been talking to another of my few friends from Jagex, Scott Moakes. In fact, Scott was looking likely to come. Then he made the decision that he wanted to try a few other things first. (Scott is now super awesome, super successful Creative Director based out in the states). This meant that we were looking at the next in the queue…Mr Thomas himself. So once again the pieces all aligned and we were reunited. Craig got settled in quickly and we were back in the swing of making awesome things together. Didn’t take us long to form our little 3 musketeers group known as the “Dream Team” which was Me, Craig and a fellow by the name of Luke Williams. Luke at the time was a QA’er nowadays he’s more well known as the guy who designed Surgeon Simulator and Worlds Adrift! The Dream Team was awesome. Where me and Craig had got on well and done good stuff at Jagex, it didn’t compare to how we were at Bossa. The three of us were working on Bossa’s first release “Monstermind” and we all absolutely loved it. We put everything we had into that game, we all were learning well outside of our roles and were just trying to make the game as successful as possible. We went through awesome times and not so awesome times, but the three of us went through them together. Then something amazing happened. In March 2012 Monstermind (and Bossa) were nominated for Video Game BAFTA awards. So, the dream team (with most of the rest of Bossa) got into our suits and strolled down to the BAFTAs, and then out of nowhere…we came home with a BAFTA. Now a trophy may not mean success or profit but it was recognition that someone out there was appreciating the work that we were putting in. We were so happy, even when certain staff members tried to bring it down a bit. However, this was the top of the mountain for me, and in turn Craig. Now those of you that know me, know that I’m not one to keep my mouth shut when it comes to things I’m passionate about, this trait isn’t something new and is something that always has caused me trouble. A lot of what happened next has been spoke about previously and has also very much been laid to rest so I have no intention to bring it all up again. What I will say is that what followed the highlight of my career was the toughest time in my career. Craig stuck by me through thick and thin, even when there were times it would have been easier for us both to throw the other under the bus we stuck by each other’s side. When it became clear that my time at Bossa was coming to an end and I needed to do something, I made the decision that I wanted to try the independent thing. When I spoke to Craig about this he said that if I was going to do it then it would be stupid of us to not do it together. So, I handed in my notice, Craig handed in his. We worked out our notice period and in the first week of June (just over a year to do the day I type this) we left Bossa.

We don’t talk about this much but when we originally left to go independent there was 4 of us. Over the course of the first few months of doing the independent thing we parted ways with the other 2. Dlala became what it was always meant to be. Me and Craig. There are plenty of articles, posts and YouTube videos about the Dlala story so I don’t want to talk about that. What I want to talk about is all the ‘real’ bits. Craig and I haven’t always agreed but we have always had each other’s backs. When other founders let us down, we were there for each other to keep going. When people there to help us would turn on us, we were there for each other. When I was ready to march into a room and tell someone to “Fuck Themselves” Craig would always make sure I calmed down fully before I did it, then if I still felt like I needed to do it he was in there with me flipping the bird right alongside me.

It has never been easy. 5 years of running a studio together takes its toll. You have to remember we had no money, then we had money and a future, then we had no money, then we nearly went bankrupt, then we had money but more work than people, then we had massive contracts, then we had no contracts. It. Takes. It’s. Toll. Not just on a business level but a personal perspective. The Craig and Aj that are parting ways aren’t the same Craig and Aj that formed the studio. But we never would be, we’re in our 30’s now and we’ve grown in numerous ways. On paper, we’re not as close as we used to be and I know how much I am at fault for this, but I also know that somewhere along the way we both fucked up. We forgot that the reason the “Dream Team” always worked is because it was more than the work, it was the friendship. But as we got older, our lives got deeper and work got busier we stopped making the time to hang out outside of the office. We also did the one thing that we never used to do. We let things bottle up. So, we went from speaking regularly and airing any issues to having large periods of time where we didn’t have any form of confrontation then having massive confrontations. We always said that the reason our relationship worked is because we could go into a room, shout at each other, walk out, have a hug and a kiss and carry on. At some point the hug and kiss turned into more of a civil handshake. And yeah, that is life. You get older, you change and things change. But in hindsight it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t really fucking suck. I want to make it clear. Neither of us care any less about each other, I also know that if one of us needed anything they could pick the phone up, call the other and the body would be cut up, buried and no questions asked except for “where shall we go to eat”.

We felt sad when the dream team went down to 2, but Luke went on to do amazing things. Things that I have no doubt he wouldn’t have achieved if we were still there. I’m devastated that the Dream Team is now no more. I’m also very sad that the loss is not just ours but the games industry as a whole. With the way things have gone for Dlala the world never really got to see just how good Craig is at what he does and whilst he is very much leaving his mark on our current project it doesn’t make it less sad.

A lot of what’s here I haven’t said to Craig, in fact he’s probably reading this now and hearing this for the first time. It’s no secret that I’m not good with the whole emotional part of life, especially not face to face. I also didn’t want to play any of these emotional cards until he had fully put his new choice into swing because I didn’t want the Rose-Coloured Glasses to affect his leaving.

As for us at Dlala, we’re making the best thing we’ve ever made. It’s the proudest I’ve been of anything I’ve worked in my ten years doing this. I’m surrounded by people I love and the dark days of my early career are long behind me.

As for me, I’m going to miss my friend and my partner of nearly 7 years.

They say once you’ve loved someone, you will always have a piece of you reserved for them. There will always be a Craig shaped hole in the heart of this studio.

So, to you Craig, thank you. Thank you for sticking by me through thick and thin and fuck you for leaving!

Love and Hugs