October 18, 2012 7:30 AM | Konstantinos Dimopoulos / Gnome
With hundreds of games on an impressive variety of formats under his belt, Jayenkai is one prolific indie developer. Also, he's incredibly talented and one of the most imaginative designers of game mechanics I have ever met. But how does he do it? Who is he? Why does he create all those lovely digital contraptions and, above all, why a game a week?
Care to introduce yourself?
I'm James "Jayenkai" Gamble, and when I'm not sat in front of a computer screen, it's probably because I'm sleeping.
You more or less develop one game a week. How long have you been doing this now? Also, well, why?
It's been a long time since I started doing weekly games.
I've always had a knack for being able to scramble games together quickly, but during the days of CodersWorkshop, I started up a weekly game making challenge. A different random theme would be given each Wednesday, and folk were given a week to develop a game based on that theme. After CodersWorkshop closed its doors, I kept Wednesday Workshop going at Socoder.net for a few years.
After a while, though, folk seemed to have given up with the idea of a weekly challenge. Wednesday Workshop slowly died off, but I'd gotten into a routine by this point, and decided to morph it into what it is now, AGameAWeek.com
All in all, it's been a good 7 years since the first Wednesday Workshop (June 2005), and I've more or less been doing one game a week since then, whenever I can!
How many games have you created?
Over on my Archive, I currently have over 275 games listed. Some are fairly decent, others are pure garbage, but all are still mostly playable on current systems. (Although some of the really older ones might freak out a bit!)
Worryingly, that's not even a complete archive, yet. The archive only lists games that I've created since 2002, and I have a big bunch of Amiga disks to sift through, to try and bulk it up even further. One day, I'll maybe get around to doing that.
I'm not sure I'll ever get around to digging out my Amstrad CPC creations, but they're mostly odd ASCII based garbage, anyway!
You favourites? Something you would like to evolve into something more elaborate perhaps?
Favourites are usually those which turned out really nice, with NeonPlat being a current fave. Essentially a Bubble Bobble type game, with a constantly shifting landscape, the game was originally suggested by PixelProspector's Authentic Kaizen, and has turned out to be a wonderfully fun little arcade-like game.
I have already expanded on the game, creating NeonPlat Adventures with a neat little calendar system built into it, but I don't think it went down too well. To be honest, the original's single-scene gameplay was good enough!
Any plans for bigger games?
I have a few ideas in mind, but worryingly, whenever I settle down to start one, I find I can bundle the basics of the game together within a ludicrously short space of time, and then I can never be bothered to carry on with the dull time consuming work of building fancy levels, and drawing half-decent looking sprites! I usually end up throwing a few random levels together, popping in some rubbish art, and calling it a day.
Why do you generally choose to develop freeware games for the PC and paid apps for iOS?
In all honesty, I don't think people would be too happy paying a price for most of my PC games! I've felt fairly strongly about this, especially since I've been doing AGameAWeek, and the oddball mushy sprites have been churned out as rubbishly as they have been!
With my iOS games, I do at least sit down and give them a little care and attention. I know it doesn't always look it, and you really can't help my overall terrible art style, but I try to make the menus swoosh in and out neatly, I spend time getting the controls "just right", and I try to make the games play as well as I can. I think, with all the extra bits of developer love, they warrant a teensy price tag. But they're still made by me, so the price isn't too high!
Oh, and where do you come up with all those ideas for games and game mechanics? You do seem to have approximately three innovative game ideas per hour you know...
I ran out of ideas a long long time ago! Nowadays, new games are purely random. I'll sit at a blank screen, and either start doodling in Paintshop Pro, or typing in BlitzMax. After a few minutes, something will catch my eye, and I'll start building that random idea into a larger game project. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't, but you never truly know unless you try it and see, and doing something as crazy as AGameAWeek gives you plenty of opportunities to find out.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the indie scene?
I'm absolutely loving the indie scene, right now. If you consider all the methods that developers now have to reach their audience, we're at a wonderful place, right now. We've got Xbox Indies reaching folks TV sets, Apple and Google bringing indies to people's hands, and for the moment, we can still reach folk with computers. It seems a shame that Microsoft and Apple are both closing the doors on indies, by "securing" their OS's, but I guess that's the way things are, nowadays. Either you're giving the big guys a share of your freeware's enormous profits, or you're outta there!
What would you like to see more of?
I think, more than anything, I'd like to see Nintendo embrace the indie scene as well as the other console makers have tried to. I know it's a pipe dream, but I've always loved Nintendo's consoles, and their controllers have always had decent dpads! I've made a batch of Nintendo DS homebrew games over the years, and they've always played nicely, with proper buttons and touchscreen functionality. It would be great to be able to pop a game or two onto their e-shop.
What keeps you going?
I'm not entirely sure! I tend to get bored if I keep working on the same project for too long, so jumping from game to game is better for me, than working on lengthier games. I think it's probably the constantly changing gameplay ideas that stops me from getting too bored. There's always something new to be tried, and it's fun to play with such crazy gameplay mechanics.
Any particular plans for the future? Ever considered trying to solely survive as a game developer?
I currently have absolutely no idea what's coming next. Having spent a few months away from development, my current plan is simply to get back into the swing of things again. Once I get going again, there'll probably still not be a plan, and I'll continue to randomly throw things together, hoping for the best.
As for going it alone, I'm not entirely sure. The way things are, to make a decent amount from AppStore sales, you need a really great game, but also a whole lot of marketing! Marketing isn't exactly my strong point, and has definitely let me down in the past. I'm not entirely sure I could go it alone, with such minimal sales.
Care to share some tips for beginning indie devs?
I'm not sure that my plan is the best to follow, but I will at least warn of game-boredom. At the start of a project, a game can be fun to build, but once you're stuck working on level building, menu interfaces and other niceties, you'll probably want to give up. Don't give up! Keep at it, do the best you can, and things will eventually come together.