Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Dundee indie games studio Astrodreamer getting off the ground thanks to major cash injections

Astrodreamer Studio started off as three Abertay graduates shooting for the stars - now they're rocketing to success.

One small step at a time for the Dundee-based Astrodreamer studio. Image: Astrodreamer Studio.
One small step at a time for the Dundee-based Astrodreamer studio. Image: Astrodreamer Studio.

“We just wanted to make a game. Any game.

“We had a bunch of artists and a coder. So we were like, ‘cool, let’s just make a really pretty puzzle game’. And that became A Bonnie Odyssey.”

When Astrodreamer Studio founder Jordan Hastings says it like that, it sounds simple: Conception, execution, conclusion. Easy.

And currently, the indie video games studio is rocketing to success, with a growing team of artists and developers, and flagship game A Bonnie Odyssey fully funded and ready for launch.

Jordan, Tabbie and Jake on their first day in the studio. Image: Astrodreamer Studio.

The plucky Dundee-based studio scored a six-figure investment from a larger Scottish studio back in March, and then topped up its coffers this summer with a £25K grant from the UK Games Fund.

For Jordan, the investment is huge – not only in terms of its practical use, but because of what it says about Astrodreamer’s growing reputation.

“We’ve struggled in the past with getting grants because we were unknown,” he says candidly.

“Combined with our previous efforts, getting this grant is a seal of quality and confidence from the UK games industry.”

How it started: Three students and a dream

But before there was Astrodreamer, there was just Jordan, his partner Tabbie Marshall and their friend Jake Allen, all freshly graduated from Abertay University, holding a shared dream of using the skills they’d learned to make something memorable.

In the city which spawned legendary games such as Lemmings, Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto, the trio were in the right place. But the right time was a long time coming.

The Lemmings statues at Seabraes pay homage to Dundee’s legacy as a city of video games. Image: DC Thomson.

“For the most part, we went through the pandemic in a whole reshuffle of losing our jobs,” explains Jordan, 28.

“I got knocked out of my studio when Covid hit.”

Although there were “loads of people at home playing games”, Jordan reveals that from inside the industry, most studios “locked up” during lockdown, blocking any potential new hires until the dust settled.

For Jordan and his merry band, that meant doing a lot of not-so-fruitful freelance projects.

Jordan Hastings and Tabbie Marshall, far right, both graduate in Computer Arts along with their friends in 2019. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

“Freelance can be a very dodgy environment with a lot of people taking advantage,” he says matter-of-factly.

“So instead we just banded together and thought we could do work for hire, we can sell ourselves pretty well, why not try doing a main line of games?”

From there, Jordan says things “snowballed”, and Astrodreamer was born.

“We almost called it ‘Inky Frog’ or ‘Atomic Daisy’,” laughs Jordan. “But what I really wanted was something spacey – I love space titles. And we also wanted something that kind of sold the story of what we’re trying to do in the studio.

“So ‘Astrodreamer’ just kind of clicked as a name.”

How it’s going: Unsung heroes behind the scenes

In the past three years, the team has gone from three, to five, to sixteen, and another recent round of hiring has added even more staff to the studio.

And Jordan makes the point that it’s not just ‘techy’ people who are employed by games studios, with all types of creatives needed behind the scenes to produce a high-quality game.

“Concept artists are the unsung heroes,” he says. “They are the first people who put pencil to paper and start showing you the world.

“Then there’s writers! There are so many game studios where they don’t have a writer. We actually have that luxury of bringing on someone that can take our insane world and then layer English into it, so it makes sense for audiences.

The Astrodreamer team hard at work. Image: Astrodreamer Studio.

“And audio guys! A lot of people think for a video game you just need the explosion guy and music. But they go out and record audio from forests and different work environments, and bring back this body of ambient audio, which is something people just don’t normally see.

“For example, no one really notices the sound of a character walking but most of the time that’s distinct audio that we have to make every time to give the game a different feel.”

With such a variety of skills and expertise needed, it’s easy to see how a tiny trio has had to expand into a full-blown studio in a matter of months.

“We’re growing very, very fast,” smiles Jordan, adding: “This has been my full-time job for three years now, and it’s only just started paying.”

City’s gaming talent ‘falling through the cracks’

As well as the two big injections of cash this year, Jordan reveals that Astrodreamer also made use of the UK Government’s Kickstart scheme, which provided funds for employers to give a chance to 16-24-year-olds who were struggling to find a job.

For him, part of running a successful business is giving other creatives a helping hand, and he emphasises that Abertay is his first port of call which scouting for new talent.

You could double or triple the amount of games studios here.”

Jordan Hastings, studio director

“There’s a really big problem in Dundee where so many games developers are falling through the cracks and not getting picked up,” explains Jordan.

“The class I was in, maybe 25% got picked up, the rest were dropped. And every single year, that’s what it’s like for students coming out of Abertay.

“The Kickstart scheme was amazing because we met some wonderful people who maybe the games industry had kind of thrown away, and they’re some of the best employees we have.”

Jordan acknowledges that like many industries the gaming industry has been “hurt” by Covid and that Astrodreamer has been “lucky to find a clear path through the asteroid field”.

Dundee gaming market ‘not over-saturated’

But he insists that even though Dundee is a small city, there’s room for everyone who is passionate about making games here.

“Dundee is really nice because it’s small enough that it’s easy to get out into the country, but it’s still this wonderful tech hub where people are just jumping at the opportunity to help you out,” he says.

“It’s not over-saturated at all, I think you could double or triple the amount of games studios here and make it even healthier.”

The ever-expanding Astrodreamer crew rocking their team hats on a staff night out. Image: Astrodreamer Studio.

Jordan observes that a lot of fledgling studios in Dundee fall down because they lack a “business mentality”; but at the end of the day, he is the head of a gaming studio, so his main business is playing.

He is, at heart, a gamer. But far from the usual cries of bombastic, popular games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption, Jordan’s tastes tilt more towards the simple and elegant.

“Most of the games I like playing are little citybuilder style games,” says Jordan.

“And a lot of cosy games, so stuff like Animal Crossing. Or puzzle games like The Witness or Portal. That’s the kind of stuff I really like.”

A Bonnie Odyssey is homage to homeland

Along with his team of coders, artists, writers and developers, Jordan has distilled all his favourite elements of gaming into Astrodreamer’s first big release, A Bonnie Odyssey.

A retro-style puzzle game set in a futuristic Scotland, it follows main character Zoe as she explores the wilds and abandoned science facilities of the landscape, solving the mystery of how she and her father got separated in time.

Official artwork for upcoming Astrodreamer game A Bonnie Odyssey. Image: Astrodreamer Studio.

“Zoe’s really positive and really fun, but she’s stubborn,” laughs Jordan. ” Using the gamer term, she’s ‘tilted’.

“She goes from being a real cool dude with attitude, which people can really get on board with, to this really genuine character that’s got some layers, like an onion. And that’s your Shrek quote for the day!”

According to Jordan, A Bonnie Odyssey has got the “vibrant, clicky gameplay elements” that he hopes make it fun for players, as well as being “very emotion-filled, with lots of character and heart”.

And he reveals the Scottish setting was a small self-indulgence, as the game was made when he was yearning for his Highland home of Inverness.

The rugged landscaped of A Bonnie Odyssey are a tribute to Jordan’s Highland home. Image: Astrodreamer Studio.

“Growing up in the Highlands and the Western Isles, it was really important for me to craft a title which felt like home.

“During Covid-19, I couldn’t go anywhere, I was really trapped. And I guess I was wanting to visit the places I couldn’t go to.

“So I just pulled my favourite bits – Pitlochry, Aviemore, Skye, Thurso and Wick – and decided to make something that felt partly like an escape, partly like a digital hike.”

Gaming is more than escapism

Put in the context of Covid, the escapism aspect of gaming seems like an obvious part of the appeal – it’s no wonder that the gaming market was pushed to a record £7 billion. But Jordan explains it’s about more than just diving into a new world, whether that be a fantasy realm or a space-kitchen like in the studio’s next project, Grubslingers.

For him, gaming is about participating in a story instead of watching it play out, as you would with a film or TV show.

“You can watch a sci-fi adventure TV series and be like: ‘Wow that’s cool – for those guys’,” he explains.

“Whereas when you’re playing in these worlds, you’re like ‘Wow that’s cool – for me!’

“That’s what I love.”

A Bonnie Odyssey is coming soon to Steam and other platforms. For more information, check out the Astrodreamer website.