Christoffer Hedborg one of the many talented independent videogame developers that come from Sweden. While he feels that he has not made much of an impact, he keeps good company. His game releases so far include Toys (an IGF 2011 Student Showcase finalist) and Cathode Rays.
Development tool(s) of choice?
What do you do?
I just got a job as a programmer at a studio here in Stockholm called Might and Delight. I intend to keep working on my own projects on the side though. I’m also about to start exhibiting indie games at a club here in Stockholm and if people seem to like it I’ll get to keep doing it.
Your own indie games or a selection from various developers?
It will consist of a selection of games from various developers. I’m selecting games together with Andreas Zecher. We’re trying to select games that will fit together thematically. So if at one point I think one of my games fits well with the other games, I’ll let Andreas decide if it should be exhibited.
How many games do you have selected so far and are they selected specifically in terms of what you think might catch the passing eye and draw people in?
It looks like we’re showing three games, or maybe four. We’ve definitely thought about how the games will look in the environment and next to one another. We started by just thinking of games we’d like to exhibit and when we had some ideas we started thinking about which of these would work together.
How did you get into game development?
When I was younger I was struggling to find a creative outlet that I enjoyed. I was usually too lazy or uninterested to get to a point where I would enjoy it. After finishing the Swedish equivalent of high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I’ve been playing video games since I was very young. When I learnt about one of those game development schools opening up in Stockholm, I thought it might be interesting to apply. Since the school demanded work samples from applicants, I was planning on making a Portal mod. But when I sat down with the Hammer editor I found the first mountain too high to climb. I didn’t fight past that first part where you have to look up every little thing you want to do.
In the end, I didn’t produce much of an actual mod but I had a lot of things planned out on paper. While trying to work on the mod, I got more into indie games and I soon discovered GameMaker. I gave up the mod to start working on a small platformer instead. This time I actually got far enough to start enjoying it. When I started feeling like I could get the things in my head to happen on the screen without having to consult Google every step of the way I was hooked.
What are your goals and aspirations as a game developer?
It’s hard to say really. I want to create meaningful experiences. In my eyes that doesn’t necessarily mean a huge, atmospheric experience. It can be in the little things as well, and these are too rarely explored. I want people to play my games and enjoy as much of them as possible. When players feel done, I want them to stop playing and still think they got something out of the time they spent on it. I don’t want them to feel like they are obligated to finish them, or play longer than they want just to get to the good part.
At what point did you move from GameMaker to your current development tools?
I moved on from GameMaker pretty quickly. When I first started making games, I wanted to avoid programming as much as possible because I thought I was bad at it and it didn’t seem interesting to me. But after getting into scripting through GameMaker, I quickly realized that I enjoyed the logic challenge it presented. So I started working in XNA and ActionScript 3 and from there I moved on to Unity (and Mono-based C#). Since then I’ve also experimented with Lua, C++ and Objective-C.
What was the learning curve like with Unity? Did GameMaker give you good foundations to learn more complex tools?
If you’ve done a lot of object-oriented programming, I think Unity will feel a bit different at first (it did for me) but after a while I got very comfortable with the way it works. I wouldn’t say GameMaker gave a foundation for more advanced tools. But the scripting definitely gave me a foundation to learn more programming.
Do you have plans to continue branching out with the game development tools that you use or are you happy with the flexibility of your current set of tools?
For now I really enjoy working in Unity. I’ve gotten very comfortable with it and it allows me to explore most of my ideas fairly easily. But I also want to spend some time getting comfortable with other tools because I don’t want to get too attached to one tool. Who knows what will happen with Unity in the future and I want to make sure I develop skills that will be valuable no matter what. That’s why I’ve spent some time on prototypes in OpenFrameworks and Polycode as well.
You attended No More Sweden this year. Do you think that it can be easier to be inspired, working among other developers or do you feel that working in solitude can be just as inspiring?
I think being around creative people can definitely get your own creative fluids running. But this was my first game jam and I got a little too pre-occupied with hanging out. I had a lot of fun but in the end I didn’t manage to produce anything compelling. I believe both solitude and company can be inspiring though. You never know where your next idea is going to come from and sometimes I’ve actually gotten ideas while trying to force them. I’d say I mostly get ideas while doing something else entirely, like being around friends.
So you would have liked to have struck more of a balance between being sociable and working on projects?
Yeah, I just wish I had more to show for taking part in an event like that. It’s a great way to explore ideas that are unconventional and not worry about whether it will be entertaining or not. But since I got the opportunity to hang out with friends that I don’t get to see very often, I had a hard time focusing on a project. We had a lot of fun playtesting all of Douglas Wilson’s projects and Petri and Erik’s drinking game.
Maybe you could look at it from the positive perspective of a good starting point, if you don’t manage to complete a project, during a game jam?
Interesting things can definitely come from an unfinished jam prototype. But since I decided to explore something a little unconventional, it feels like I shouldn’t spend too much time on it afterwards, unless I’ve managed to prove to myself that it’s an interesting idea.
Have you attended any game jams since and do you have plans to attend others in the future?
No I haven’t. I wanted to go to BIGJam in Berlin but I couldn’t afford it. I definitely plan on attending more in the future. Next time I’m going to decide beforehand if I want to make something or just hang out though, so I don’t end up working on something that I don’t finish and feeling bad about it afterwards.
Do you keep a sketchbook handy to take down ideas while their still fresh?
Sometimes, when I remember it. I have a small leather bound book that I sometimes bring and a larger sketchbook that I keep at home. I like writing down my ideas for later but I’ve actually never gone back to an older idea and I don’t think I ever will. I certainly don’t have my one big dream project jotted down anywhere. I usually get a lot of ideas and I think the nature of ideas makes the newer ones more appealing and interesting to work on, although sometimes I manage to work small parts of older ideas into the prototype I’m working on.
Your games have been quite experimental so far. Is it important to you that you feel as if you are giving the player a unique experience?
It’s very important to me that I at least try to explore new things. I’m glad that people sometimes seem to find my games experimental. I also value presentation a lot, and I like making games that people find enjoyable, visually. I love graphic design and motion graphics and those serve as huge inspiration to some of my projects.
Do you see yourself (and other developers similar to yourself) as innovators, that is, do you feel that you are pushing videogames forward as a medium?
I don’t think I’ve reached a large enough audience to make a direct impact yet. I’d like to think that I might have planted some ideas in other developers’ heads though, and maybe they’ve managed (or will manage) to affect peoples’ ideas about what games can do and what they could be.
Have you been happy with the reception to your projects so far and are you reaching as many people as you would like to?
Like I said, I hope I can manage to reach more people in the future, but for the time being maybe it’s good that I haven’t had a lot of players. I find it hard to consider any of my projects fully fleshed out yet. I feel like I’ve mainly reached other developers, which is good because that means I get a lot of valuable feedback. It also means players really think about what it is I’ve made.
In the last couple of years, independent game development has exploded and so many more people are trying their hand at developing videogames because there are so many tools that make it more accessible. However, this creates a lot of competition for audience. Do you see this as a positive or negative thing?
While it’s hard to deny that it scares me to think about how many talented people are part of this now, ultimately it’s for the best. It means we’ll see more interesting ideas and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? All you can do is try to produce your best work and share your ideas.
Any collaborations with other developers on the cards or is there anyone that you think you would specifically enjoy working with?
Lately I’ve been talking with the musician Datahowler about a collaboration. He’s an excellent graphic designer besides being one of my latest music obsessions. He liked the style I had in some of my games and we feel like both of our visual styles would work well together. His main responsibility would be music but he would also be involved in the art direction.
I’ve also talked with Kian Bashiri about making something small together. I’m going to be working with him at Might and Delight and we’ve noticed that we share a lot of opinions and ideas about games. There’s a ton of developers I hope I get the chance to collaborate with some day though.
Do you specifically try to keep the projects you work on small in scale? Do you set yourself time frames for how long you want to spend on a specific project?
When I’m working on an idea I consider how interesting I think it is and decide how much time I’m willing to spend on it. So usually when I get ideas for larger games, I realize that there’s no way that the project will keep me interested for the amount of time it would require to finish it. I’ve learnt this from past experiences.
I’d love to make a larger game some day, I just haven’t landed on an idea yet. My current project is quite a bit larger than anything I’ve finished before though. I get a little frustrated with the fact that it’s hard to keep a larger project like that visually cohesive, but right now I’m hoping that people will enjoy the variety.