While the game industry draws attention for its astonishing growth and the way it drives technological evolution, people often forget about the impact of the passion driven indie game scene. Many mobile platforms have paved the way for indie developers to compete with big companies. And in many cases, they manage to come up with the most gripping ideas of fun and play. We had a chat with one of the key boundary pushers in the scene.
Just five years ago, he ran a bar in his hometown Antwerp, Belgium. Today he is through a variety of networks, deeply embedded in the European indie game scene. He founded his own independent game company Glitchnap, and helped to found House of Indie, a platform for independent game developers which organises the Indie Game Festival, Screenshake. In Sweden and Denmark he is co-organiser of game events such as Nordic Game Jam and Nordic Game Conference and in Copenhagen he is a member of the Copenhagen Game Collective. The right man to know, as you can imagine 🙂
Carton boxes & baby buggies
What game development is all about for Joon, is walking untilled paths. His game Trainfinity, for example, incorporated a virtual train that can hop from screen to screen, up to 3000 tablets. Or for Zumbie, the player gets blindfolded. He attempts to pull games away from the classical hardware threesome ‘screen+mousepad+keyboard’. “With all the possibilities out there today, why do we still use keyboards when it comes to gaming?” A laptop on a table with 4 Xbox controllers is easily (and negatively) associated with game culture and its innate couch potatoes. But when you stick that laptop in carton box or a baby stroller and create a bit of magic around it, people will feel drawn to it instantly.
Moving away from the ‘screen+mousepad+keyboard’ combination, creates magical human interaction.
The differentiation of games and the broad range of unexpected concepts are reaching an ever-greater audience. And the innate social component of gaming is a definite stimulus for game developers to further explore this field. “In our game ‘Sentree’ the gamer is blindfolded his phone transforms into a gun with which he can point with and shoot. Others then need to steer the player. Technologically this game might not be that impressive, but that is not so much what this game is about. It’s more a coaching game. From my perspective, that is much more interesting than enforcing all the rules top-down. I’m not just invested in the digital world, I’m mainly a social human being.”
Solving problems together
When it comes to their technological potential, game developers such as PlayStation and Nintendo could take it to much greater lengths, according to Joon. Particularly “local multiplayer games” hold his interest. “I love to bring people together in one space and pose them a problem by using a game format. How they then decide to solve the issue doesn’t really matter. The social experience it generates is most important to me.
“Game developers will not necessarily change the world, but they can instil a consciousness in people, in a similar way as film or literature can” Joon asserts. Accordingly so, games have become an attractive medium for adults as well. “There are no taboos anymore and the expectations of people have broadened hugely. Fun is no longer the only criterion. Gaming has also become about experiencing things, whether it is romance, thriller or horror. It can all be part of the game praxis.”
Releasing his inner artist
Realism, passion and releasing his inner artist: for Joon that is what it is about. And he does so with pleasure, even if that implies making sacrifices. “I don’t want to spend months on end designing a tennis ball for a big game production. Working for a big corporation usually means you are very limited, with relatively little impact on the end result.
For me, developing games has triggered an interest in visual art, audio, game history, cultural history, feminism, social issues and so much more! Having this broad scope is fundamental to me”.