Looking Back – Interview with Joost van Dongen
Before you read this article I’d like to say that this interview is outdated. This conversation was conducted in early October. And in particular I’d like to point out that Joost was a great sport. There was a scheduling issue that was my fault so I’m happy that he still let me interview even after the interview was put off so many times.
BA: Could you tell me who thought of the idea of de Blob?
Joost van Dongen: I am not sure, I
think it was Fabian(Ronimo co-founder). It was a group thing that came up during a collective brainstorm we were sitting in a McDonalds in Utrecht (the city where our Blob plays) and there is this huge air-photo of Utrecht, in black and white. We figured it would be awesome to paint that; that’s where the painting idea came from.
BA: Cool. Was this gameplay concept hard to make in-game?
Joost van Dongen: Well, it requires a lot of specific tech stuff to get it to work, but nothing really complex I guess Blue Tongue has a lot more trouble with it, because it does take some framerate, so it is not easy to pull it off so well on Wii.
BA: While we’re on the subject, if I researched correctly your team didn’t work on the new remakes that have recently been released, right?
Joost van Dongen: Nope, not at all we sold all the rights to THQ and they put their Australian studio Blue Tongue on it.
BA: How do you feel about this game? Have you tried it out?
Joost van Dongen: I received a copy last week and I really love it. It is a very complete package, but lots of attention to detail and it is fun how much has changed, but how much has been kept the same as well.
We already at a dictatorial regime called INKT, only they’re much more fleshed out for example.
BA: Yeah I love the game too. Anyway now you have created a new game development company, Ronimo Games. How many team members are there?
Joost van Dongen: 7 founders and right now 12 people are working on our new games. Swords & Soldiers, you might have seen it a bit already?
BA: Yes and I’m excited to talk about it. So what exactly is Swords and Soldiers?
Joost van Dongen: It’s a 2D side scrolling real time strategy game for WiiWare. You’re familiar with the RTS genre?
BA: Yes, but could you get into detail on the gameplay mechanics. Is it like the Command and Conquer series in which you build a base and create units to attack another base?
Joost van Dongen: The base is already there. you create workers to gather gold from goldmines, you build units to fight, you cast spells and you upgrade your base to do more advanced units and spells. that’s basically it. The special thing is that it is side scrolling and that units walk automatically. So once I build a unit, it immediately walks towards the enemy and attacks whatever it encounters. Workers also automatically start to gather gold. So that is a very indirect thing: once you’ve built a unit, it takes a while before it gets to the where the fighting is.
The direct influence is in the spells. I might for example heal my own units, or shoot enemies with lightning, or freeze them with a snowstorm and, like in any RTS, resources are limited: do I use that money to build more workers and get more money, or to build a melee unit, or a ranged unit, or to do an upgrade so that I can cast better spells? And do I want to heal my own units, or hit the enemies with my spells, or save up some mana to buy me a super spell later on?
Joost van Dongen: We played a Flash game that was very like it, only much much simpler. We really liked the idea, but we felt the concept could be taken much further, which is what we did. And we had just recieved our license to develop games on the Nintendo Wii, and because we did not have a publishing license, we decided we wanted to get something out ourselves and Wiiware is just perfect for that.
XBox Live Arcade is very difficult to get on for a small studio, while WiiWare is still open for studios like us.
BA: Oh so for now, your company is almost exclusively for developing Wiiware?
Joost van Dongen: We are only doing one game at the moment, so yes. After that I expect we will do another one for WiiWare. And after that we know how they sold and we will reconsider what works for us.
BA: That’s good. Before I forget, can you say how many unit types are there? And are there faction specific units?
Joost van Dongen: Each faction has totally different units: different graphics and different gameplay. spells are totally different as well. So we put a lot of time in balancing: getting the races to be equally strong, even though one might have strong units and the other more magical units, things like that.
BA: Oh that’s really great. I’ve seen many games where the other factions have slightly if almost exactly the same types of units. It’s great that you added some variety which people can choose to pick what fighting style they want.
I believe I’ve seen splitcreen in one of the images provided at your site. Does this mean online play may be possible for this game?
Joost van Dongen: We will not do online play, only splitscreen in single player. If that game sells well, we will do online in a sequel.
BA: Okay. So that other Wiiware game you were talking about, do you guys have any idea on what it will be or is everything being focused on Swords and Soldiers?
Joost van Dongen: We have a couple of concepts lying around, but we will get to brainstorming for more ideas and making a choice for the next thing after we sent S&S to Nintendo.
BA: So how does it feel working with a small group of people rather than a large number found in other companies?
Joost van Dongen: I never worked at a large company, but I visited enough of them to know that I like this better working for two years on a single game is a long time, it gets boring after a while. our cycles are more like half a year per game, that keeps it fresh to work on.
Another thing is that with 100 people on a game, any individual will have done only a small thing and most won’t have had any say in the higher level concept. we are small enough that everyone has a big influence on the game. that’s a lot more fun to do, but on the other hand: in such a small team, we can not tell the big stories of a game like Bioshock, so we will probably not only do small games in the future. but that is far away: we first need to get our first titles out there.
BA: Yeah. So if you tell anything to the readers right now what would you say?
Joost van Dongen: euhm? That we are totally in love with Swords & Soldiers and are working real hard to get it all polished and ready and hope that they will like it too!
BA: So when do you think the game will be completed by?
Joost van Dongen: It should be release somewhere this year. So that is 2.5 months from now at most.