Johann Sebastian Joust interview with Douglas Wilson

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Funny story. I attended IndieCade 2011 for about five minutes, and that was it. See, I showed up on the last day, and I thought the event ended at the same time as the two previous days. That wasn't the case, and I showed up as the massive indie games show closed. It was a huge disappointment to miss out on all the fun, but something awesome did happen in those five minutes. I got in touch with Die Gute Fabrik's Douglas Wilson — the developer behind one of the most entertaining party games in recent memory, B.U.T.T.O.N. — and we chatted it up for a bit.

It was awesome talking indie games with a developer who's known for making unique titles that don't follow traditional game design standards. We eventually followed up our chat with an interview, where Wilson discussed his current project, the graphics-free, Move-enabled Johann Sebastian Joust, as well as all manner of indie game topics.

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David Sanchez: How did the concept for Johann Sebastian Joust come about? What inspired the core experience of the game?

Douglas Wilson: Taking our party game B.U.T.T.O.N. as one of several starting points, I had originally imagined J.S. Joust as a racing game where three players would carefully inch towards a fourth controller on the other side of the room. But when Nils and I kept shoving each other to make the other lose, I quickly realized that the game we actually wanted to play was an antagonistic duel. That's when the core of J.S. Joust was conceived.

As I talk about in my recent GDC lecture, I draw a lot of inspiration from folk games and playground games. J.S. Joust in particular is partly inspired by a silly blindfolded slow-motion dueling game (called "Liste Lanser") that some friends of friends invented. In many ways, I think motion control games share a lot more in common with playground games than they do with traditional videogames.

Ever since working on Dark Room Sex Game, I've been interested in digitally-mediated games where players look at each other rather than at a screen. Obviously, that's something we're used to doing when we play non-digital games like sports, board games, etc. But it isn't typically what you do when playing a computer game. There's something fun in and of itself in the subversion of re-purposing gaming technology towards different ends.

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DS: Any other projects you're currently working on? Or are you currently entirely dedicated to Johann Sebastian Joust?

DW: Yeah, I'm always juggling a bunch of projects! The main project I'm working on is Mutazione, a character-centric action-adventure game inspired by games like Another World and Majora's Mask. I'm working on it with a team of friends, including (but not limited to) Nils Deneken and Alessandro Coronas, who did the art and music for Where is my Heart?, respectively. Mutazione is Nils' brainchild. I'm on board as a producer and programmer, and my goal is primarily to help bring Nils' vision to life. I'm excited! The project is still in the very early stages, but you can hear a sneak peek here.

I'm also working on a number of physical installation games. For example, I have this "horror-slapstick" game called Beacons of Hope, where 15 to 20 people crawl around in a pitch dark theater. The game's soundscape, by David Kanaga (of Proteus and Dyad fame), dynamically responds to how the players are moving their controllers. There are some other installations too that I have yet to announce.

And, yes, I'm still working on Johann Sebastian Joust! I discussed the current status of the game on a recent blog post. All I can say for now is, we're working hard to bring the game to platforms that are the right "fit" — hopefully soon!

DS: You managed to snag a couple of awards at last year's IndieCade. Johann Sebastian Joust was awarded for Impact and Technology. How did you feel about winning these two impressive awards?

DW: It's always an honor to win awards, especially at IndieCade! I've been attending IndieCade for the last four years, and it's one of my very favorite gaming events, so those two awards are all that much more meaningful to me. In terms of the Technology award specifically, I owe a lot to Thomas Perl, whose open-source PlayStation Move API I'm using. Thanks, Thomas!

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DS: How was Johann Sebastian Joust received at IndieCade by gamers and other indie devs?

DW: I think the game was received enthusiastically. I'm proud that the game seems to appeal to a wide audience beyond just traditional gamers. It's been a real thrill to see such a diverse audience enjoying the game, from little kids to parents to random people off the street.

DS: If there's something fans of your games can appreciate, it's your ability to take gaming tools and building a different kind of experience around them. For example, the keyboard or controller for B.U.T.T.O.N., the Wii Remote for Dark Room Sex Game, and now the PlayStation Move controller for Johann Sebastian Joust. How do these ideas come to you? Does a light bulb just go off all of a sudden? Or is there a lot of brainstorming for ideas?

DW: A lot of the physical games I make are designed collaboratively, in the right kind of social environment — at a game jam, at a bar over beers, etc. When you're making party games or public exhibition games, it helps tremendously to situate yourself in that kind of social environment, at least during the early stages. Even J.S. Joust, which is largely my own solo project, was originally prototyped at the 2011 Nordic Game Jam while horsing around with my business partner Nils. I should mention that Dark Room Sex Game and B.U.T.T.O.N. were also (partially) developed at game jams.

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