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In defense of Drizzy Tearz: a Q&A with developer Ashten Winger

'This has to be the best-looking Drake-inspired app there is'

I behaved a little salty last week over Drizzy Tearz, a new free iOS game that asks you to tap the tears falling from an emotional Drake’s floating 8-bit head. You can imagine my surprise when I was offered a chance to speak to the creative force behind the game, Ashten "Whoopi" Winger. It’s one thing to dismiss a game’s central idea and call it "crapware"; it’s another to talk to the person behind said idea about all of the work and planning that went into said crapware.

I’m still not sure the idea at the core of Drizzy Tearz is particularly fresh or funny, but talking to Winger convinced me his interest in Drake isn’t disingenuous. Drizzy Tearz is the first app Winger’s ever made, and he spent about seven months working part-time on Drizzy Tearz with designer Mykola Dosenko and his brother, musician Tristen Winger. (It’s the latter Winger’s voice you hear doing a capable — if occasionally off-key — version of Drake’s token croon on Tearz from the 6, the soundtrack that accompanies Drizzy Tearz.) We spoke briefly Monday afternoon about learning to code, Drizzy Tearz’s future "story mode," and what Winger does when he’s not poking fun at the world’s most famous rapper.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Jamieson Cox: There are a lot of Drake-centric apps out there — there’s Flappy Drake, Run through the 6 with Drake, etc., and I think that was part of my initial frustration with the game. What separates Drizzy Tearz from this flood of apps people make just to ride Drake’s coat-tails?

"This has to be the best-looking Drake-inspired app there is."

Ashten Winger: The main thing separating Drizzy Tearz from Flappy Drake or Drake Shake or any of those other apps is — the first thing, for me, is the design. I came into this project thinking, "This has to be the best-looking Drake-inspired app there is." I’ve seen tons of other apps, and a lot of them have unoriginal ideas — "We’re just gonna Photoshop Drake’s face and throw him in there," or "We’re just gonna go into Microsoft Paint and paint the UI element." I partnered with my good friend Mike who lives in Ukraine, who’s a pixel artist, and we worked together on the likeness of Drake and the UI elements, the tears, whatever it is. It was a back-and-forth process of me emailing him to say, "Yo, I need all of these elements." And he would say, "Well, Drake would look better like this," and I would animate it so that he’s outputting different expressions throughout the game.

The first thing I started with was definitely the design. I wanted it to look good. This was my first app, I’m not a programmer from Silicon Valley or anything, so if anything was going to be good it was going to be the design. It had to be a fun game and look cool, too.

I read that it took seven months from start to finish to develop the game. Why did it take so long? I’m not an expert when it comes to app development, but that seems like a long time.

It was definitely a long time! At the time I’d been touring — I do a lot of stage production work for all kinds of artists, whether it’s EDM artists or rap artists — so while I was on tour, I was putting this app together, whether I was in a hotel room or on a plane or at sound rehearsal, I was just constantly coding and going back and forth. I was traveling the world at the same time and showing other people the app as well and using them as my beta testers.

You said you’re "not a programmer from Silicon Valley or anything." Did you have any coding experience before you started making the game?

I had about a year of experience. I studied at UCLA and at General Assembly. I finished my course at General Assembly around March and I wanted to start a project immediately, and then I started working on the app in April. This was my first time actually coding a project and pushing it out professionally, to the masses.

When did you decide to work on an album that would accompany the game?

I’ve worked in the music industry since I was 19. (I’m 25 now.) I’ve worked closely with tons of artists, whether it’s YG or DJ Mustard or Snoop Dogg — I worked closely with Snoop Dogg for four and a half years. It started about halfway through making the app. My brother is a composer and he said, "How about I make you songs to play in the background of the app?" I said, "Awesome." He was making these songs pretty fast, and I thought, "How about we make an album where every song is short?" Each song’s about a minute long, and they’re just quick tracks that you hear before jumping to the next song; they’re easy to consume. They bring out some of the story of Drizzy Tearz as well, and I wanted to keep that — the app shares a story and the album does, too.

Let’s talk about that — you’re planning a lot of additional content for the app, and that includes a "story mode." Can you detail that?

"You have to stop him from crying so he can finally release his next big album."

I want to release another album with a major update. It’ll introduce levels, and each level will unlock a new song. The story behind it’s that Drake is emotionally unstable, and you have to stop him from crying so he can finally release his next big album.

I was critical, but it seems like the response to the app was positive otherwise. It sounds like this is a long-term project, but do you know what you want to work on next — for your second app?

I have a lot of little ideas. I can tell you about platforms — I want to jump into Apple TV. I don’t plan on taking Drizzy Tearz to Apple TV, but I want to come out with my own media player that makes it easy to find free content online. I also want to partner with other artists for apps, and not necessarily ones like Drizzy Tearz where you’re playing on a character, but doing things that can amplify an album or an experience in some way.

Are you planning on pursuing app development full-time, or is this going to remain a side project for you?

I can’t say much about my full-time job, but I work at a tech startup right now. I do stage production and live production work and the app on the side for fun — when I have time, I’ll work a music festival or a stage at Coachella. But I’m working on tech on the content side of things, and that’s where I want to be.