July 24, 2013 7:15 PM | Staff
Bart Bonte is a developer who likes to take 'abstract' to the extreme. From the Belgian indie dev's latest game Off to Work We Go, to some of my Bonte favorites like Furiosity and 14 Locks, his games regularly throw the player in at the deep end, and ask you to figure Bonte's twisted worlds out for yourself.
"I love making these kind of games," he tells me. "I think the abstract aspect comes from the fact that often the initial idea I have for a game isn't a game mechanic or a storyline, but purely a visual image in my head that I want to use and build a game around that."
For 14 Locks, for example, Bonte initially envisioned a large empty room, with a Twin Peaks 'Black Lodge' feel.
"Another part of that abstract nature of my games is probably because I'm always trying to force myself to use a limited number of elements for one particular game and build a complete game around these elements," he continues.
"This helps enormously to keep the scope of the projects rather small and to stay focused." Off to Work We Go benefited from this approach: Bonte started with the image of "big Tetris blocks or some other big game icons crash landed into the sand."
This act of building games from a simple picture in his head has always been with Bonte from his very first game release. Other ideas he made built games around include a bath duck, a CRT monitor in a field, and his daughter's teddy bear.
Game jams aid Bonte in his quest for abstract video game design. Off to Work We Go was designed for the No Future "Work It" Contest, and Bonte says he works best when given a theme to work around.
"I love to make things for jams or competitions with a theme - it usually results in things I would never have tried otherwise and it really drives creativity," he notes. "Even more when restrictions are added on top of a theme, like it was the case for this contest."
And keeping things abstract means that players can build their own stories around Bonte's games. Why are space invaders being spat out of the factory in Off to Work We Go? What does the linear, orange leading line suggest?
Going mobileRecently, Bonte has been experimenting with releasing paid games for mobile platforms.
"I had been holding off mobile development for quite some time," he says. "Developing for mobile devices takes a lot more effort and to make it possible for me to invest that much time into mobile, I have to ask for money for the mobile games."
Indeed, his browser games have always been free, so when making mobile games of a couple of his browser games -- Factory Balls and Sugar, Sugar -- Bonte was not comfortable simply porting them across and charging for an experience that was free online.
This is why he completely reworked both games from the ground up, rethinking the controls and the visuals. This of course meant taking a lot of time out to transition to mobile, but Bonte says the move has paid off.
"I was happily surprised to see steady sales curves," he says. "The biggest part of those sales are on iOS. Even though Android is so widely spread, it doesn't (yet) seem to have that app store culture that is so common with iOS users."
With this in mind, Bonte plans to experiment more with mobile, although only adapting existing games. "It's very hard as an individual to get word out about an app, and without a browser game reference I can imagine that being even harder," he says. "The browser will always be my playgarden where I can try out new things reasonably fast."
Getting by on browser gamesYes, while many developers are doubling down on mobile, Bonte is happy to stick mainly to what he knows best -- the web browser.
"I went full-time indie three years ago and I make a living out of my games," he tells me. "It's possible to give away my games for free thanks to ads in and around some of the games."
"But there's also a lot of work the public does not see," he continues. "I sell licenses for my games to game sites, I sell special versions of my games with the branding of clients, I sell fully customized versions of my games with completely new graphics. But the client work that I accept has to take one of my games as a basis, I don't make new commissioned games."
With the various indie pushes from console manufacturers, I asked Bonte whether he's considered making games for PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U et al.
"For the moment I don't have games that would fit console controls," he notes. "The browser and touch controls is where they belong."
"'Going big' would probably also mean I would need to spend a lot of time with one game and then spend a lot of time promoting that one game," he continues. "That would conflict with this drive in me to produce five or six new games a year."