This week we caught up with Ashley Gullen the creator of games development tool Construct 2.

About Ashley:

ashleyAshley has been working on game creation tools since 2007. A graduate of Music & Sound Recording, Ashley is now Director of Scirra Ltd, developing the HTML5 game creation tool Construct 2 and helping to push the boundaries of what's possible in a browser.

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The Interview

What's your background?

I'm a fairly recent graduate of Music & Sound Recording.  I'd been programming as a hobby since being a teenager, but took it up professionally upon graduating and realising I needed to make a living!


What motivated you to start Scirra?

We'd worked on an open-source game creator now called Construct Classic as a hobby throughout university. For various reasons it reached a dead-end (largely because we learned how to program as we wrote it, and it ended up a mess).  I knew it was possible to do a lot better, and there was a market for it.  I had also been reading a lot of excellent articles by Paul Graham of Y Combinator about tech startups.  So without much hesitation Scirra was set up as a real business and started rewriting Construct 2 from scratch.


What are the objectives of Scirra and how did you address them in the design and build?

We're very lucky to have Construct Classic serving as a tried and tested prototype for Construct 2.  It's proven invaluable for knowing what works, and knowing what we want to totally redesign.  The basic interface worked well, but we made huge improvements to the architecture and general code quality, as well as shifting to a cross-platform HTML5 engine.  If I were to start a big new programming project in another field, I would develop a fairly complete prototype with the intention to throw it away and start again - that's how important I think having a prototype is.


What was your inspiration for the design?

imageSimplicity and usability without sacrificing flexibility.  Like Visual Studio for non-programmers.


What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?

HTML5 support on mobile is tricky, but we support some pretty good wrappers that make sure our games perform at native-like speeds.  Check out Ludei's CocoonJS and appMobi's directCanvas.


What technology did you use for your app development?

Construct 2's editor is a C++/MFC app built in Visual Studio 2010.  The games are all HTML5, for which I can, surprisingly, get almost everything done in Notepad++.


What techniques did you use for testing your application and were there any challenges with this?

We just release beta releases to the public because we're too small to afford significant testing resources. Most test professionals are facepalming right now, but given our experience with Classic we know exactly what we're doing, and Construct 2 is still pretty robust.


What are the unique aspects of your application other than the initial idea (design, architecture, implementation, testing, other)?

Allowing complete beginners to make games, and an exclusively HTML5 game engine.


What's the business model (i.e. free/paid for/subscription/ads in apps) and why did you choose that option?

We're freemium - we have a free edition with limits, and Personal and Business licenses.  We think it's important to have something better and more useful than the old-fashioned 30-day demo, especially if it can take a while to learn the tool, and having a genuinely useful free edition can massively increase your audience.


What's different about Windows from other platforms you've worked on (good and bad)

Windows is definitely a mature, well-supported, stable OS with lots of great tools available. You can depend on it enough that if you have a problem, it's surely your fault and not a system problem.  However we have a lot of trouble with a lot of crappy graphics card drivers which crash Construct 2, even on Windows 8, and the glacially slow update and proliferation cycle of Internet Explorer.  IE8 still has 10 times as much market share as IE10 according to StatCounter.


What's the appeal of Windows from a business perspective?

Windows has always had such a huge market share that it was the obvious choice to reach the largest audience on desktop.  However these days mobile is arguably more important than desktop.  But if you're making a complex IDE like Construct 2, desktop might be your best bet at first anyway.


What were the challenges for you building this app?

Mainly having a small team and such a huge amount of work to do.  But we're gradually getting through it all!


What support did you get from Microsoft?

BizSpark has been pretty awesome for getting us a lot of Microsoft software.  It definitely helped, especially in the early days of our startup when money was tight.


What's next for you?

We'll keep updating Construct 2 to make it even more awesome!  Generally we release beta updates every 1-2 weeks with the latest additions.


What would you say was the one big thing that surprised you about developing an app for Windows 8?

It was pleasantly simple to port our HTML5 game engine to Windows 8.  Since Windows 8 supports HTML5 apps as a primary technology, porting amounted to creating a new Visual Studio solution and tweaking the template HTML file. And then it just worked!


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