Johan Peitz used to run independent videogame studio, Free Lunch Design. His most notable success to date is the creation of Icy Tower, a tower climbing platformer that can be played in quick bursts. It has been downloaded and played millions of times. He now co-owns Muskedunder Interactive (the company that bought Free Lunch Design).
Bonus link at the bottom of the interview.
Development tool(s) of choice?
What do you do?
My business card currently says ‘Director of Social Games’, which intheory means that I lead our current social games initiative - in practice I do a little bit of everything. While looking out for the long term goals and keeping the team focused on the current target it also means I sometimes do anything from re-starting crashed game servers and coding isometric engines, to designing levels and making road maps. Might sound like a mixed bag but I really like the interaction between the disciplines and moving back and forth between them.
When not tied up in professional engagements, I try to make a few small games on my own every now and then. And bake bread.
Tell me a little bit about how you became interested and got into game development?
I can’t really recall any defining moment when I realized that I
wanted to work with games. It’s something I’ve always done and been interested in. When I was young I read Choose Your Own Adventure books, which lead me to make my own. Then I got into board games, and subsequently started modding them and making my own. Once I got my hands on a computer (C64!), I started playing computer games and very shortly thereafter started making my own, albeit extremely basic, games. From there I pretty much stayed the course.
There is really only one thing here and it’s not at all that fancy -
to have fun. I’m extremely bad at doing things I don’t enjoy so as long as game development keeps me entertained, I’ll stick around.
Everything I guess. I can’t really pin point any sources. Other games, books, movies, things I see while riding the tram to work, the lot. That in combination with a constant lack of time creates the right level of frustration I think. At regular intervals, the pressure to do something builds up too high and then I absolutely have to create something. Or be unhappy, but I don’t like that so I usually find the time when the need arises.
Before FLD I was using a different brand called Crowfoot Software. I released some substandard titles, most written in QBasic. Having recently moved on to C / C++ and Allegro at the time, I had a huge amount of projects going on. Small tests, ideas, half finished prototypes, more or less nothing that worked or was even closed to be releasable. Looking at all my stuff I could never decide what to focus on so I eventually scrapped it all and started anew. Being sick and tired of never finishing anything I decided to start finishing things. This, in combination with an idea to oppose the old TANSTAAFL proverb, marked the start of Free Lunch Design. Since then I’ve never had more than two or three projects going at the same time (mostly only one).
Your most popular creation to date would have to be Icy Tower. What inspired the concept?
There was a game creation challenge at a forum which I frequented (Pixelation) to create arcade style games. The organizer put up a GBA as prize to the best one created within three weeks and I decided to win it.
I realized quite quickly that the game was entertaining as people started posting their results all over the place, but the game took a while to spread outside game developer circles. Once it broke free into the lives of “normal people” it became unstoppable and spread from school to school and city to city like wildfire.
Well, the terms for the deal made me a co-owner of the company who made the purchase (Muskedunder Interactive) which made me part of the board that set the direction for the whole thing. From there on, we tried to make sober decisions that would both allow for us to make the games we wanted and create financial stability for the company.
Absolutely, being part of the core group of the company it couldn’t have been any other way. At that time we worked a lot with big brands and commercial campaigns, which of course had their own very special set of restrictions. All in all, working commercially is a very different cup of tea compared to making freeware.
When did you decide to leave Free Lunch Design and why?
Things had been rather slow with my Free Lunch Design games and I didn’t really know how, or had the energy, to take it any further. Simply put, other things were more interesting and it wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I needed to get to the ‘next level’ and couldn’t do it on my own.
One thing that has always worked really well for me is limiting the time I spend developing games. For me, doing anything too much kind of breaks it. At Muskedunder, we’ve enforced 7½ hours work days. It keeps the mind fresh and allows for people to freely live a life outside work. People are also a lot more efficient when they are well rested. Of course there are times when I feel the flow and then I don’t see any reason for not keeping it up, but generally I’ve found that walking away from an unsolved problem or a boring code section either makes me find the solution by accident or simply find new energy doing something else.Other than that, my main focus has been to keep things simple and make sure I finish most of the things I start.
The biggest reward for me when developing games is reaching the finish line. Even if it’s just the end of a single spring. It is extremely satisfying to finally complete something and publish it live, and knowing I will get there keeps me motivated while working on a project. As I think I’ve mentioned somewhere earlier, my game development time is limited, so there is little chance for me to burn out. More likely I will get frustrated from the lack of opportunities to be creative.