March 3, 2015 3:00 AM | Eduardo Garabito
Thanks again for dedicating some of your time to us. Let us begin this interview with a brief self-explanation of who you are and what you do.
Kris: My name is Kristoffer Jetmundsen. I'm an indie developer who mostly works with html5 games, and I have a strong preference for making games based around strong main mechanics. I work mostly with 2D pixel art games, having grown up with NES and SNES as my two favourite consoles. I'm kind of a jack-of-all-trades, doing design, programming and graphics by myself on most projects, but I'm open to collaborations as well. Martin Kvale is my sound and music guy!
Martin: My name is Martin Kvale. I work as a audio guy and composer for various indies. Besides Little Big Mansion I've worked with Krillbite on The Plan and Among The Sleep, as well as Rain-Games' Teslagrad. I've done smaller gigs, like some audio work for Red Threads' DreamFall Chapters and the upcoming game Sentree from Glitchnap. For the time being I work abroad as I am travelling while working for six months. I have been lucky to be working with Kris for around two years, and really enjoy the synergy of working together 1-on-1 with him on games.
Both of you are working together on Little Big Mansion, a game which revolves around two magicians exploring an old mansion, each with their own "alteration" ability. One of them has the ability to switch the size of objects, while the other can switch different types of objects. How did you come up with this concept?
Kris: The idea sprung directly from the concept "size matters", which was the theme of a game jam we were participating in. I was thinking that different ways of manipulating the size of an object would be interesting, and that led to the concept of switching the sizes of different objects. It seemed like an ideal fit for a 2D puzzle platforming game. The first thought that came to my mind was to give the player the ability to freely manipulate the size of objects. But that didn't feel restrictive enough and it didn't seem like there were too many interesting puzzles to be found. Switching sizes of objects felt new and interesting to explore, and it puts a natural restriction on the players ability to just make everything the "right" size without any problems. When I was trying to figure out who would have such an ability, the decision to put a stage magician with a top hat as the main character just fits too perfectly. I remember being really excited about making him snap his fingers when he used his ability, and everything felt so right when Martin's sound effects were finally in place.
Martin:The second character has undergone a few really fun changes. At some point he looked like a Texas oil baron with a white suit, and he had a really cool jump animation.
Kris: I tried to make him feel like an opposite in every way with that look, he was short, fat and had a white suit, as opposed to the main character who is tall, slim and wears a dark suit.
Martin: I believe I mainly playtested what Kris made, and tried out different vibes and music. We discussed a lot, but the concept of the game was all Kris'.
Kris: Martin was integral in shaping the mood of the game though. His music really set the tone from early on. He played the prototype and created the main theme which was really rather scary, and it set the standard for the rest of the music. As a multi award-winning horror game composer, Martin knows what he's doing.
Martin: Kris liked it, and we went for that mysterious/scary/eerie vibe!
On the website for the game (soon to be released) it says: "At the beginning they operate individually but towards the end the magicians have to cooperate, using both abilities together to find their way out." In this case, the game mechanics came first, then the story (and "mood"). That's not strange for me, considering the game was born from a game jam, and as you stated the mechanics sprang first. Are you guys usually comfortable with the "first mechanics, then story" approach?
Kris: I'm very much wired to work in that way. We were actually just working on a prototype for the same Game Jam event as Little Big Mansion, only 2 years later, but this time I tried starting from a more high concept place, with a visual and audio target, going more for a specific mood than a specific game mechanic, and in the end I decided not to submit it for the compo. It was a real shame because Martin did great work on it, but as a game it just never came together. I couldn't get past the feeling that the mechanics just weren't interesting, and I really hadn't managed to deliver on the mood I was going for. But yes, I prefer to start with the mechanics and work from there.
Martin: Kris is really good at mechanics and game design. I enjoy the fact that we can discuss things, and after a discussion I usually just put away everything I said and let him do whatever he feels is best with the game. I get more interested in fluff, the things around the mechanics. So that's where I get more opinionated.
Kris: I think there is a very clear divide where Martin really cares a lot about the whole package, including mood and story lines and stuff like that, and I'm very much about micromanaging game design stuff.
Martin: This is the game this year, by the way. I really love it, the style is amazing. And I feel the same, it makes it very fun to work together. Each of us get his own side of the sandbox, so to speak.
You've worked on tons of different small games, but Little Big Mansion was the one to be turned into a big game. What made you move forward with it?
Kris: One of the main factors which motivated the decision was that when I released the original prototype, the game was also posted on several websites and it actually brought my tiny server to a halt. I thought I was being DDOSed or something until I understood what was happening. Over the course of a weekend we had several thousand views and some very positive Twitter messages from other developers, and at that point I sat down and wrote an application for funding from the Norwegian Film Institute, who also funds games.
Martin: Yeah! We got really good feedback, we received funding from the application to the Norwegian government, and we got invited to an Israeli game conference as well.
Kris: Yes, some time after that we received an e-mail from a curator in Israel who was in charge of a new game exhibit, and we were exhibited together with awesome games such as Fez and Canabalt!
So basically what you needed was support.
Kris: The internet convinced us that the project was interesting, and when we got the funding for it was full steam ahead!
At this time the game is really close to release, and will be available for iOS first. Any reasons why you picked that platform? I find it really interesting because Little Big Mansion isn't really the "archetypal" game for iOS. In other words, it is so PC-ish.
Kris: When we started development, Steam wasn't as open as it is now. Several people online were actually requesting for a mobile version, and I felt that the controls work really well on the iOS. I'm not in love with on-screen buttons, but since the focus of our game is on solving puzzles and not skill-based jumping or running, it felt really good on the iOS. The reason we're starting with iOS is mostly technical though. We have an easy way to get the game onto iOS, but the path to Android is a little bit rockier. The Steam version is also coming up and we're just starting our Greenlight campaign, planned around our iOS launch.
Martin: Many different screen sizes, hardware differences. Android is a cool platform, but it's nice to work with iOS because there are less variations in specs.
Kris: The game is actually developed using the ImpactJS framework in HTML5, so if we find a good way to sell it as a web game, that's also interesting to us.
You're currently on your way to Steam via Greenlight. How's it going so far?
Kris: Putting your project out there in front of the masses to vote for is kind of terrifying, but it feels good as well. I really just hope we get some 'yes' votes! It's definitely exciting trying to plan launches both on iOS and Steam. I feel like the platforms require very different approaches to marketing and how to raise awareness about a product.
What's your opinion on the current Greenlight format?
Kris: As Valve and most other people have already figured out, Greenlight is far from perfect but it did open up Steam to a lot of developers who wouldn't get access otherwise. It seems like Valve is intent on replacing it with a solution that is open to everyone, and I wouldn't be surprised if Steam ended up being as open as the app stores on the mobile fronts are right now. This would make discoverability the biggest hurdle Valve has to overcome, but I believe that they are much better equipped to deal with it than Apple or Google. They've already started to tackle the issue with their new curator system.
It is obvious that both of you make a great team. Your skill sets work like a charm together, but in fact the two of you have pretty different backgrounds and working styles. Martin, you studied radio, music and sound design, then moved on to games in game jams, right?
Martin: I flirted with the idea of working with music and sound for some time (since I was fourteen or fifteen), but I was cautious because I was worried that having it as a job would kill the joy of doing it. I did a few years of studying radio, I worked on sound and music for a few plays in high school, and I worked on a few amateur games in my university before I decided to commit myself to sound and music, studying in Australia. During that time I got into games properly when I checked out Limbo, which got me interested and I started looking for cool Norwegian game companies for work when I came back (the ones I contacted, Rain-Games and Krillbite, never replied ^^). I remember the first thing I checked out was the Norwegian championship of gameplay, in which I noticed Kristoffer for his entry «Pace Yourself» because it had a cool gameplay mechanic of working your way through the game depending on your speed. I met him at the Global Game Jam in Hamar and asked to join up for his jam project. That's how we got to meet properly I think.
In short I started out that winter/spring, and I got to meet the people I am lucky to be working with today. I can be really outward going, and I think that helped me coming from knowing absolutely no one to becoming friends with these cool people.
You studied in Australia, met with Kris in Hamar, and have probably been spotted in half a million places around the world. Man, you're a true nomad! How was it to work while travelling?
Martin: Yes! I love it! I would say it's not always the easiest, but it is rewarding. I am working with one main project and a couple of smaller ones as I travel, and this whole travel thing was just me wanting to travel for six months to meet with cool people, old friends and new, game devs, audio people, and random beautiful souls. I have wanted to travel since I came home from Australia, so when I had the chance, I went for it. I left now because there was no huge crunch on the horizon, and I could always go home should there be the need or if it doesn't work out. I'm in Hong Kong now as we speak, and I'll be leaving for Brisbane and Australia tomorrow (laughs).
Martin: I remember hearing about it, but I never really knew anything about NAVE other than it being the wandering arcade machine. It's definitely cool, and with its own shell it becomes something else, something more than just a game. It's more of an experience, a full package (smiles). But I'd rather not carry something like that during my travels, because it seems like it involves too much in the way of logistics (and I am not overly fond of planning).
On Twitter you said: "I want to devote some time each week helping devs with audio related issues, if in need or know someone interested get in touch! #indiedev" How did the experiment turned out? And do you think that there's a need of more sound designers out there?
Martin: Yeah! I had an evening where I decided that I could have a few hours each week helping others, and audio is all I can do pretty much. In Norway I am interested in building up a strong tradition of exciting and great audio for video games, and why not also around the world if anyone should be needing it.
What I want the most is to be available for helping out game developers with answering questions and being a sort of think tank for them when it comes for them to start thinking about sound for their game. I always think it's important to have an audio guy coming in early in design and development, maybe not do it full time, but to be involved and to have audio in the mind of the team from early on rather than an afterthought.
I think there are many sound designers around, and many are interested in starting with games. I would love to be able to be there for them too, help them with understanding how to work with computer games, and how it differs from other media.
Wonderful. Your turn again, Kris. You graduated from a games programming Bachelor program in 2007. How long have you had specific video games formation in Norway? How's been your experience studying videogame development?
Kris: My degree was actually the very first programming specific game development bachelor course in Norway, so I guess videogame development started appearing in universities and the like in 2003. Our most famous game development company is Funcom by far, but as the business gravitated more towards smaller indie titles, and Funcom got smaller, there are more and more smaller companies starting up. This is of course amplified by the many new game development courses appearing around the country as well. Be ready for more and greater games coming out of Norway in the next couple of years!
I started working in one of these smaller companies that was founded right out of school with three of my classmates, and it was tough but also a lot of fun, so even though the company was shut down after three years it has lead to lifelong friendships and plenty of life lessons. On studying: I really feel like the only way to learn game development is to make games. Replicate the masters in the beginning, listen to other developers, learn new tricks, try new technologies and develop your ability to understand player feedback. Hopefully your place of study facilitates working on games with like-minded people in an inspiring environment. It's as easy as that.
You defined yourself as a jack-of-all-trades, and you're a self-taught artist too. Do you think that learning art could have affected your career as a designer? And did you also learn design while learning art?
Kris: Since I was a kid I loved drawing and reading comics, and I was doing that a lot until I was around 12 I think. I maintained my interest in comic books and games of course, but I stopped doing much drawing, except when I had an Art and Design course during high school. But I picked it back up during my bachelor's degree and since then I've been doing pixel art and stuff like that. I really think that some artistic ability helps a lot when you're doing game design, just having a sense of the feedback you want the player to get, or the look of the characters in your game or the overall mood you want to convey in a scene is very powerful. Some of the developers I admire the most have great visual skills as well as programming and game design, like Eric Chahi (Another World) and Jordan Mechner (Prince of Persia). And of course, a lot of the new indie developers. One of my recent favorites is Daniel Linssen who makes incredible Ludum Dare entries in game maker where he does everything from programming to art and sound himself.
A final question for both of you guys. I'm a fan of Extra Credits, and utterly enjoyed one of their latest episodes, dedicated to the Norwegian indie scene. As Norwegians, do you agree with the picture they've drawn? What do you expect to come in the Norwegian scene, in the years to come?
Martin: I think most Norwegian devs saw it and I have not really heard anyone disagree with it.
Kris: I think his picture of the game development scene in Norway is extremely accurate.
Martin: Overall they cover it well.
Kris: For example the financial difficulties of developing games in a country with such high living expenses is a very big concern, especially for those of us living in Oslo.
Martin: Yeah, it's weird to discuss this with people from abroad.
Kris: We do have a very good support system in the Norwegian Film Institute though, which is there solely to facilitate that there are Norwegian games being made.
Martin: But for every game they sell in America, we need to sell 2 to get the same worth of income.
Kris: And we do have an advantage over film, in that it's much easier to create a game which can be sold across the globe, than it is to create a movie with Norwegian spoken language that is supposed to be seen other places than in Norway.
Martin: It's true. And also the game community does not have the same attitude to games from different countries. If they are indie games, they are indie games. It's also something we see about Scandinavia we have been internally talking about since Norway as of yet has not had a megahit.
Kris: I do think that we as an industry will grow to be much more successful in the coming years, and 2015 really a breakthrough year. Among the Sleep has done well, Teslagrad found new platforms, the first chapter of Dreamfall Chapters came out, and lots of other cool games, like the beautiful Amphora.
Martin: [continues]: Like Angry Birds of Finland, Limbo of Denmark, Battlefield of Sweden.
Kris: Yeah, we have had nothing of that magnitude. I guess the closest we've gotten is Fun Run and Wordfeud. But I'm sure you can expect great things from Norway in the near future!
Martin: Yeah, with... *dramatic pause* LITTLE BIG MANSION!