A Visit to Just Add Water Ltd.
I recently visited a game development studio to find out everything I could about their games, the people and technology building them and in this article, the driving force behind it all.
In 2006, after taking 3 years out of games development, Stewart Gilray decided to get back into the industry he enjoys and try to start earning some good money. In October of that year he starts up a games company called Just Add Water (Developments), Ltd., little did he know that nowadays when you do a Google search for that company the first thing that comes up is a bathroom supplies business. You live & learn I guess.
He got some contract work in London and then did two or three games for a company which shall remain nameless; during that time he got some valuable contacts and friends. One of those had a little idea for a space shooter game on the PC, he bet copious amounts of money that he could get a Sony contract for it on the PS3. His friend laughed and told him it would never happen. Stewart sent off a prototype demo and it got signed straight away, it did so well in fact, Sony offered even more money to do a PSP version.
In November 2009 the PS3 game was complete and over the next few months they worked on the PSP version which was released in early July. Those games were of course Gravity Crash on the PS3 and Gravity Crash Portable, for the PSP. During that time, at the Game Developers Conference he met up with Lorne Lanning, the genius creator of the Oddworld series; they seemed to share a passion for games and after several more discussions JAW began working on an iPhone app which sadly never saw the light of day. Reason being it was supposed to coincide with the OddBoxx.
Another five months of work and Strangers Wrath for PC was released. There were issues as it was a straight port, some bugs and problems with drivers were found and the PC community were very vocal about it. During that time Stewart said he’d like to do a PS3 version, there were some concerns from Oddworld Inhabitants that Sony wouldn’t want to publish their game, but Stewart insisted and did an International Product Assessment (IPA), where they submit a concept to Sony and get a normally big report saying ‘yes or no’ and any changes or ideas they’d like to see. Normally you’d get about ten pages back but this time it was about a page and a half of things they would like to see added like the special bonus DVD content. You can safely say everyone at JAW and Oddworld were excited.During a conference call with JAW and Oddworld Inhabitants to talk about what’s happening next. Stewart asked about the OddBoxx; what transpired next changed JAW for good. It turns out Oddworld Inhabitants had hired a company to make two of the games in a promised 6 month window, that was 15 months ago. Stewart said he would look at it, but not making any promises. JAW received the code and within only five weeks they had it rendering, which the other guys couldn’t manage.
With the PS3 game they wanted to do a HD remake, but weren’t happy with just upping the resolution and cleaning a few textures like many other supposed HD remakes on the market today. They went all out and remodelled every character in the game and masses of textures. Cleaned up the environments, making barrels look more like, well, barrels. Added some sneaky little Easter eggs into the game and even found some bugs with the help from the people who had played the Xbox version posting videos to YouTube. Stewart noted one person who’d found many holes in the environment where you could jump through, probably more than a play tester could have.
Not only did they improve the look of Stranger, but improved the audio and redid two character voices which previously sounded very ‘Monty Python’esque. Stewart and his team even changed things to what the original designers wanted to do, but couldn’t because the Xbox wasn’t powerful enough. By the end it was almost like a whole new game and raised the bar as to what to expect from a HD remake.
JAW then approached Sony to see if they wanted a PlayStation Vita version, and Sony immediately jumped at the chance. They had one guy in the office working on it on his own for about ten months. It ended up having a better reception than it’s big brother shooting into the number one spot in the US and UK. Even now it can still be found doing well in the charts. All of this without a marketing budget for either game. Stewart & Daniel Morse (PR guru) mention the support of sites like PS Nation being a massive help in getting the word out about their games. It also helps when Stewart is on the podcast chatting about everything to do with games, occasionally mentioning his own. He has even been known to guest host once or twice.
So what’s next from Stewart Gilray and the team at Just Add Water Ltd. Well, I’ve seen it, and all I will say for now is that it’s definitely New ‘n’ Tasty.