Jesse Venbrux first came to the attention of the independent gaming community with Frozzd, which took 1st place in the YoYoGames Winter competition. He cemented his status as a independent developer to keep your eye on with his Karoshi series of games, which not only became his most popular release but garnered much critical acclaim.
Bonus link at the end of the interview.
Where were you born and where else have you lived?
I’m from the Netherlands and used to live in Kyoto, Japan.
Development tool(s) of choice?
What do you do?
Nothing at the moment! I’m enjoying my free time and getting back into independent development (currently iOS games). I want to try some different work as well, unrelated to games.
Tell me about how you become interested in and got involved with game development?
As a kid I enjoyed making my own stories, comics, board games and more. Interest in game development came through games with editors such as Rayman and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (and likely others that I can’t remember). Big inspirations were Mario, Sonic and some obscure PC games such as “Supaplex”.
What are your goals and aspirations as a game developer?
I hope to provide people with experiences that are different enough to make them feel like they experienced something worthwhile.
What inspires you or keeps you motivated enough to keep making games?
It used to be the reactions from online communities and seeing how a game got popular that motivated me. I wanted to make the best games. Right now, I’m not so sure.. maybe not having any money (soon) will motivate me.
You’ve gone from developing popular freeware games to working at Q-Games, which you recently quit. Why the decision to quit?
One reason is my girlfriend, who moved to Australia to study. In general, I wasn’t enjoying the work much (a lot of programming). I figured that doing something like a working holiday (which I’m doing now) would be something that I won’t be able to do anymore once I get older. I hope to try some different kinds of work and get some more life experience. I can not currently say for sure whether I want to do the work I did for the rest of my life.
Karoshi has been your most enduring and popular set of videogames to date. What elements of Karoshi do you think made the series so popular?
The Karoshi games have a simple goal that is different and counter-intuitive: you must find a way to die. I think the games provide a lot of fresh puzzles that are often different from the last puzzle, instead of relying on a defined set of mechanics and spreading them out over the course of the game.
Is there still any life left within the Karoshi concept or are you done with it?
I think there is life left but I’m also a little done with it. I never really made use of the iPhone’s unique capabilities, so I have some ideas left that I could use. For example, you could solve a level by shaking the device and making some TNT explode, or by touching the screen in a certain spot until it cracks (visually) or holding it upside down so that the guy falls from the floor onto the ceiling (which is full of spikes). Or there’s an object hanging from the ceiling and you have to swipe to cut-the-rope so it falls and crushes the guy.
Which parts of the development process do you find the most rewarding?
I enjoy it when I get something to work and it works as intended and thus “feels good”. I enjoy seeing a product develop and change, and I enjoy receiving feedback from players.
And the most tedious?
Programming maths and physics when I need to create complex systems. However it can also be very rewarding once it actually works.
Has working at a professional videogame company been beneficial to your growth as a developer - what did you learn from your time there?
I learned about company culture and gained experience working in such a setting. I worked together with programmers and artists, and my boss, and I think it has been a valuable experience in several ways. More concretely, I learned a lot of ActionScript 3.0 and a little bit about the social network gaming landscape.
I have tried FlashPunk before, when I didn’t know as much about ActionScript. If I make another Flash game, I will most likely use it.
What sorts of things give you ideas for game concepts - so you have any unusual examples?
My inspiration comes from the happenings in my personal life and just small stuff that I notice at times. It also comes from previous games that I’ve made or unfinished ideas, and other games.
My grandfather had a big ship, which he transferred stuff like sand and grains with, over the rivers in the Netherlands. My mother was born on it and it was their home for years. I remember controlling the ship with a big steering wheel. It was fun, because you had to anticipate and guess how much force you needed to apply. You would go back and forth between turning left and right to keep the ship going in the correct direction, until you got a feel for it. I’ve been trying to recreate this experience on the iPad with a touchable steering wheel and a top down view of the ship. I like the feeling of mastering the indirect control.
No more PC releases planned?
At the moment I’m prototyping on iPhone and iPad. I really like them as you can play anywhere and easily play with together with others. I’ll probably do PC releases again some time in the future.
Now that you want to get back into independent development, which direction are you looking to take your work?
I have gotten a lot of ideas over the last year. I’ve prototyped some of them, and several could be turned into neat little games. However, I’m starting to figure out that none of them hold my interest! I could probably make them into something if I had to, but somehow that’s not how it works. I’m working on something new and different in the past week and I hope it fulfills my vision for it.
I want to make something that makes you laugh, feel stimulated, or just feel good. I also have ideas for board games (like iPad apps that are to be played together). For the most part, I’m as yet unsure about the direction I want to take my work in but it’ll probably take one by itself.
Bonus Page: prototype pictures.