In this edition of industry interviews we have not one but two guests! As the ‘Spellenmaakgilde’ (aka Game Design Guild) we are sponsored by Indietopia, who offers their space for playtesting each month. To shine a spotlight on them, we approached the founder Mendel Bouman and the director of their Accelerator program Merijn de Boer.
What is Indietopia about?
Mendel: Indietopia is a foundation that strives to help build, support, and grow the Northern Dutch Game industry. It features a co-working space, Accelerator program with micro funding, and an in-house publisher.
Merijn: Indietopia is all about bringing like-minded developers and aspiring designers together. Our aim is to be the ‘go to’ networking hub for gamers and enthusiasts alike. We aim to create a safe environment where creativity can roam free without forgetting about the business side of things.
What is your role at Indietopia?
Mendel: I’m the founder of Indietopia, and am currently active as its informal ambassador, and member of the board at the Foundation.
Merijn: I am the Director of operations at the Indietopia Accelerator. This program acts as a launching pad for developers and we support them with seminars, networking, office space and, as a consequence, the tools to create great games.
Could you tell a bit about your prior work experiences?
Mendel: I started in ICT in ’98, worked as a project management assistant at Bombardier Transportation for 5, after which I decided to combine my hobbies -building computers, gaming, programming, writing, making music, drawing- and pursue these professionally. I ended up working for Wunder Wall (a pre-Wii, Wii for 50 simultaneous players) where I developed Game Maker games for the Wunder Wall. After that I joined Electronic Arts for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Fifa 08 (or 07, or 09, can’t remember 😉 ). Then I joined U-TRAX in Utrecht where I worked on the Dutch versions of many major PS3 titles, which I’m still no allowed to talk about, but you likely played them if you have a PS3. I was based at Ubisoft for a short while during this period. After U-TRAX, I founded Emagica, my company that was at the time providing aid in programming, writing, storytelling, design, and more, to any game developer in need of an extra hand.
After moving to Groningen, I noticed a lack of game industry, or rather non-visible game industry and a strong lack in coherence and support, and after several years of networking, talking, planning, I founded Indietopia, which opened its doors on April 1st 2014. It’s been a rollercoaster ever since.
Merijn: I previously worked at several internet companies and noticed that the bigger the company, the more the need to utilize people like batteries – specifically when dealing with competitive upcoming markets. Having learned the value of people, specifically happy employees, I can now value my team and demonstrate on a daily basis that they are the core of our business and we hold them dearest.
Before joining Indietopia I did content acquisition at Softonic International, had my own companies in translation and text design and managed several innovation projects for foundations and smaller enterprises. I now combine my work at Indietopia with my own company: Human Approved Productions. We have one (gamified) app (CityBuddy), one digital game and two card games in development. One being The Epic Story of Blank & Blank.
What affinity do you have with tabletop games?
Mendel: I love complex tabletop games. I have been playing pen and paper roleplaying games for 32 years (The Dark Eye, MERP, Rolemaster, Paranoia, Vampire the Masquerade, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5) and still play them. I’m a Tragic the Garnering… I mean Magic the Gathering player since ’94. I love board games. Favourites are Roborally, Dominion, Pandemic (all editions and versions), Ticket to Ride, Eight Minute Empire, Carcassonne, Colonists of Catan, and even good old fashioned Risk and Scrabble. I love tabletop RPGs for the social aspect and its creativity and appeal to your imagination. I love board games for their challenges. Can I win? What different strategies can I try? Can I beat this really good player?
Merijn: I love tabletop games; both playing and designing them. Gathering with friends in a live tabletop setting is so much different than what we do online when gaming online. I think that personal contact, the laughs and fun around a table and the idea of questing with pen and paper is simply amazing. The talks we are having with several contemporary board game publishers are very inspiring and give off a clear signal: these games are very much alive and bring people together in ways digital games cannot.
What games (digital and tabletop) do you really like?
Mendel: Top favourites would be Vampire the Masquerade, Roborally and pandemic. Digitally, I really love roleplaying games, in particular ones where you can fully customise and create your own characters and go about your unique adventures with multiple storylines and endings. I lately find myself not having enough time to play these (which is something I sorely need to address). Racing sim games are also a guilty pleasure of mine, I love to race, both virtual and actual. Last but not least there’s Singstar, Dance Central and Just Dance that just really tick my boxes. Singing and dancing is good for the soul. Doing this with friends in your own home is even better.
Merijn: Call me old-fashioned but I love playing Barricade (Malefix), Snakes and ladders (with my younger nieces) as well as the older magnate games like Hotels. I also love games that seem like card games yet are played on a table. There is one rather obscure game called ‘Vluchtweg‘ (Escape route) where players lay cards with routes in order to escape a prison in the center of your table. My own game The Epic Story of Blank & Blank (now being worked on) is also a game that we tied to the table by including boards with a special function. I love and play a lot of tabletop games and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Any cool projects we should know about?
Many 🙂 With the Accelerator program we have several serious game projects in development and several entertainment ones:
- Budget buddy – a serious game that helps mentally challenged people in budgeting their savings and income.
- Pedal Pushers – a serious game that re-acquaints cyclists with bicycle safety, and traffic laws, in a playful manner.
- Terra Gardens – A Zen gardening experience for de-stressing. Expected Q4 2019.
- Crimson Resonance – A Twin Stick shoot ‘em up with a unique ‘Suck and shoot’ game mechanic with beautiful combination of audio and visuals. They recently won an award at Reboot Develop.
- Fringe Planet – A voxel survival game that mixes up Dwarf Fortress, Factorio, Minecraft, and HP Lovecraft.
- Pilot Perils – Excalisoft is developing a mobile cave exploration game in a Steampunk ‘helicopter’. This side-scrolling flying action-adventure game has great visuals and enticing puzzles. Out on iPhone, soon on Android, and Q4 2019/Q1 2020 on Nintendo Switch.
At the publisher:
- Arctic Infiltration, a first person vehicular underwater game, featuring rogue AI, stealth, tactics, rockets and combat.
- Super Secret project: a first-person shooter with a twist. We cannot say more about this one, except that we are very excited about it.
Developed at the Indietopia premises:
- Mecha Maddox, a Twin Stick shoot-em up where you fight gigantic monsters from the inside out, based on New York Times best-selling author Maddox (author of The Alphabet of Manliness and Fuck Whales).
- Æther Void, a Pen and Paper roleplaying game where you can play (among many other races and archetypes) an Orc on Fantasy world Far Haven, a Vampire scientist on Steampunk planet Victoria, or an undercover agent on Sci Fi planet Sleeping Dragon. Explore these worlds and find your way across the stars to the other worlds.
What advice would you give a game designer or someone aspiring to work with games?
Mendel: Learn all about business development and marketing that you can. Or find a partner that wants to do this so you can focus on game design. Together you might just conquer the world.
Merijn: Designers are often told to ‘kill their darlings’. I advise designers to spread their darlings as much as possible. If an ambition is simply too large, divide the elements over different puzzles or games and you’ll notice some simple ideas work on their own. Like with good writers; your first story is never one that should cover all of your experiences or the fictional experiences you have lined up for your readers. Start small and never stop thinking big.
Gentlemen thank you for your time!
Interview by Arjan van Houwelingen