Johann Sebastian Joust interview with Douglas Wilson

DS: There seems to be a lot of emphasis on motion gaming among Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo in terms of actually creating hardware such as the Kinect, yet developers have kind of hit a wall and don't really focus much on creating meaningful experiences around these peripherals all that often. When you first heard about the Wii, and later on the Kinect and Move, did you immediately think, "OK, I have to do something with this technology"?

DW: Back when the Wii came out, I had no idea that I might one day get interested in making my own motion control games. But actually, perhaps I should have known. I used to be a fanatic Dance Dance Revolution player back around 2001. Man, I loved that game! I don't think about it so consciously when designing my own physical games, but I do often wonder if all the hours I spent playing DDR ended up influencing my current design interests.

By the time the Move came out, I knew immediately that it was a very interesting piece of technology. That controller is so underrated! The most radical thing about the Move controller is its LED light. Essentially, each player carries around with them a giant pixel. It's almost as if the players are carrying around some kind of distributed screen. That's especially great for no-screen games like J.S. Joust.

Johann Sebastian Joust - Interview - 4

DS: Lately it seems that the indie scene is a bit divided on whether Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network provide the better experience for developers, but one thing remains largely unanimous: PC is the top platform for indie companies. What are your thoughts on XBLA and PSN? Hell, what are your thoughts on WiiWare? Would you care to release future titles for any of these digital download platforms?

DW: My concern with XBLA is that it seems out of reach for indies like me. As far as I understand it, to get your game on XBLA you're required to have a publisher (be it Microsoft themselves or some other company). See this illuminating blog post on the issue by 2D Boy's Ron Carmel. On PSN, by contrast, you can "publish" your game yourself (well, assuming Sony signs off on your game). That's a big advantage.

In general, I wish that console platforms were more open and easier to develop for. The idea of Xbox Live Indie Games had a lot of promise, but it's been a disappointment for many of us in the indie community. Among other problems, XBLIG has very little visibility on the platform, and Microsoft has failed to support that channel much. What a shame!

Problems notwithstanding, I am a big fan of console games, and so I'm still interested in developing for those platforms.

DS: What separates Steam from the home console download services? What would Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have to do to provide a much more inviting gateway for indie devs like Steam has?

DW: One key advantage of Steam is that you don't need a special dev kit to make games for their platform. Not only are dev kits expensive, but it takes a lot of effort and time to learn how to use them. It's not easy getting your game on Steam, but it's certainly easier than getting your game on a console.

Johann Sebastian Joust - Interview - 5

DS: Any games, indie or mainstream, you currently want to play or can't wait to get your hands on?

DW: Argh, I'm so behind! There are so, so many rad games that I still need to play.

Out of the stuff I have been able to play recently, I'm a huge fan of Proteus, by Ed Key and David Kanaga. I've also been very impressed by Richard Hofmeier's "retail simulation game" Cart Life. And I've been addicted to Ramiro Corbetta's Hokra, an elegant 2v2 minimalistic sports game.

Oh, and I've been beta-testing FRACT. Man is that game looking and sounding awesome!

DS: Lastly, your games are known for being more physical and non-traditional than what most people would consider the traditional video game. Any plans or desire to release a more traditional game (platformer, puzzler, etc.)? Or is that something you're not planning on exploring anytime soon?

DW: Yeah! As I mentioned before, I'm working on an action-adventure game called Mutazione. I grew up playing adventure games and JRPGs, and so despite my interest in physical motion-control games, I'm also a big fan of traditional games, especially story-rich games. I think the indie community has (to some extent) been ignoring traditional storytelling in games. And writing too. So I'm eager to help fill those gaps — or at least try!

Johann Sebastian Joust - Interview - 6

I would like to personally thank Douglas Wilson for taking the time to answer my questions. I consider him a good buddy of GameZone, and I hope he feels the same way about us. We'll be watching out for more info on Johann Sebastian Joust, as well as Mutazione! You can follow Douglas on Twitter @doougle.

For a bunch of nonsensical gibberish, follow @thesanchezdavid on Twitter.

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.

Johann Sebastian Joust - Interview - 1

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.

Johann Sebastian Joust - Interview - 2

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!

Johann Sebastian Joust - Interview - 3

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.