My name is Dominique Ferland, and I’m a 29 years old game designer - I make games and art under the pseudonym Dom2D. At the age of 6, I was drawing dozens of Mario Bros. levels on loose sheets of paper. Through high school, I came up with card games and forced my friends to test them out. In college, I moved into advertising and graphic design but kept playing video games and board games.
Weird thing is, it never occured to me that I could make games for a living - not until I got a random contract job to do the mock-up screen of a Price is Right game for local start-up company called Ludia, here in Montreal. I started as a 2D and UI artist in the industry, but quickly realized game design was my calling.After 3 years of working on casual games at Ludia, I discovered the indie game development community in Montreal, thanks to our local Mount Royal Game Society meet-ups, where we would have a beer and show the games we’d made in the past month. I made new friends who actually understood my passion for games and game design. This gave me the motivation to start my own indie projects in my spare time and to try to be indie. I had trouble finding people to work with, so I said “I’ll do it myself”!I bought and borrowed tons of books like “Programming for Dummies” and a plethora of game design theory books, and through countless, sleepless nights, I managed to create a couple tiny indie games (including Geek Mind, a trivia game about video games). Despite its very limited scope, Geek Mind became quite successful and actually got me a job making an indie game for Mochi Games. So I quit my job at Ludia, and started working from home! I’ve been doing contract work for a couple game companies and creating my own indie games ever since.The day I left my job at Ludia is also the day I started my very first game jam at the Global Game Jam, and I’ve been to every jam I could since then.
You’ve participated in the likes of both Ludum Dare, TOJam and Global Game Jam. If you had to choose which format you preferred would it be the physical game jam or the isolated game jam?
A building populated with tons of people making games at the same time is the best place to jam. In the first few hours, I can feel the excitement and the creative energy of every team surrounding mine. In the next couple days, whenever I feel a little tired or uninspired, I can just get up and go chat with a random team to get a little motivational boost. In the last couple hours, everyone is trying everyone else’s game, getting great feedback and giving congratulations - it feels like a party stretched out for 48 hours.Isolated jams are also great but they just feel a bit more like work. I think development is more focused and clear, but it lacks the community aspect, where random people might come by and chime in their ideas or offer useful feedback through the weekend. Which is why the last time I did an isolated game jam with the Neverpants team, we invited a bunch of our artist and programmer friends to work or chill at our studio while we were jamming!
You seem to enjoy participating in game jams within a team. What is attractive about collaboration within a game jam structure?
The greatest thing about working in a team is… I don’t have to code! I developed and coded a couple games in Flash before, and played around in Game Maker a little bit, but overall, I wouldn’t say I can make a game on my own, especially not in 48 hours.Team work also makes game design much, much easier throughout the jam. Since there is so little time, everyone is super direct in the game design discussion. If someone feels a certain gameplay element does not work, we throw ideas and tweaks around until we’re all happy with the direction. If in the middle of the jam someone thinks a certain feature is risky, he just says it and we react immediately. There is no lengthy meeting or e-mail thread - everything is resolved right then and there with the team.
Are you usually assigned to a particular role (or is there a particular role you feel comfortable filling) within those collaborations or does it differ from time to time?
I’m pretty efficient at doing 2D art for a game jam, so that’s usually my role. I think game design comes second, since the design of a jam game is much more of a team effort than the usual game development process.I love doing the art for a game jam because it’s very much based on instinct - there isn’t much time for concept art and art direction discussions, so I have to rely on my creative inspiration at that moment. It creates some weird, fun new art styles, settings or characters. The time constraint also makes me come up with efficient or stylish ways to create content - making the game black and white or have characters be just heads, for example.
You participated in Indie Speed Run, which had a an entry fee and high profile judges. What elements attracted you to participate in this jam?
In the past year, I started a team we call Neverpants, with Ian Girard and Pierre-Luc Poirier. While we were working on Greedy Piggy Chase, we found the announcement for Indie Speed Run to be quite attractive with its famous judges (“Ron Gilbert will play our game!!!”). Although now that I think about it, its best feature was letting participants pick any date to jam on, between December and early January.Now that Indie Speed Run is over, I gotta thank the organizers for a super smooth and fun experience throughout. Organizing a jam is a lot of work, but following up with a good website to play the games on, having voting sessions, revealing judges’ picks and making an awards video like they did made the whole event feel bigger. It probably gave the games more visibility than other jams.
What effect do you think introducing competitive aspects have on game jams and their creative output and atmosphere?
I kinda hate it. I usually don’t care about “losing” contests, but in my first jam, after an intense, mostly sleepless weekend, I had fallen in love with the game we had made and suddenly cared a lot more about what people thought of it. I wanted the game to win, so my team’s efforts could be rewarded with some silly sponsor-provided prize. It made the last few hours of that jam totally suck - I was cursed by the competition.Since then, I’ve learned to not care about “winning” or “losing” a game jam. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve learned something and had fun making a game, no matter how crappy or awesome it is. I think it sucks to get new participants in this competitive mood, while co-operation and sharing are the key to a great jam.The best way to reward participants is with a big raffle - everyone gets a chance to win something, and it makes for a cool gathering at the end of the jam.
Now that you’ve participated in a number of game jams, what effects do you think it has had on you as a game developer? Have you learnt anything profound or refined your work methods?
The jamming process taught me to let go. No matter how great you think your first idea is, it’s practically 100% certain that if you let it go, you’ll come up with a better one. During the jam, time constraints and technical issues can radically change your idea too - it’s fine, let it go. Use those limits to create something slightly different. And if your end product is unplayable, it doesn’t really matter, as long as you had a good time with your friends, and have learned something from that so-called failure - let it go! Of course after the jam you can go back and try to fix your game, if you think the idea is good enough.Another important thing I got from game jams - sleeping is a good idea. Not just during game jams, but in general. Lack of sleep turns me into an annoying, unproductive shell of a guy. I realized that working in a focused manner for solid chunks of time is way better than losing creativity and focus for every hour of sleep that I skip. I still do work super late at night sometimes, but I do take my sweet time to wake up the next morning!
Can you remember any specific instances where you were taken out of your comfort zone at a game jam?
In the past couple jams, I’ve had the chance to work with experienced developers and all-around cool people. Both Neverpants and Les Collégiennes are awesome, fun teams to work with, so it always feels pretty comfortable to work with them. Before this I also worked with cool people, but they were set on making games in 3D, a medium I’m not very at ease with.While making Alphanauts, I had a physical breakdown half-way through - I think eating pizza and drinking gigantic energy drinks while having a bad cold might not be a great idea during a jam! I was super tired on the last day, but we made it through with a fun little experimental game.