Vlambeer's Rami Ismael talks about making games you hate

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Video game development is something many traditionally associate with big budgets, big teams and big names. Nonetheless, times are changing; a growing number of independent developers are beginning to demonstrate that the industry is no longer exclusively the province of those with corporate backing. Independent games like LIMBO, Minecraft and Bastion have all made a significant impact upon the media and gamers alike.

And while the mounting popularity of such titles is clearly a sign of change, there's something arguably more exciting. Frequently conducted over the course of a single weekend, 'game jams' offer the penultimate challenge to developers: to craft an entire game within a woefully limited set of hours.

Though rarely as elegant as a full-fledged production, many of the bite-sized games created during such events have definitely been impressive. However, while a multitude of game jams have been successfully run over the years, none of them answer the question posed by the controversially-named Fuck This Jam.

Can developers create something for the genre they despise within the course of a week?

With this unique game jam approaching ever-closer, we take the time to interview Rami Ismail, co-founder of Dutch independent game studio Vlambeer and one of the co-organizers for the upcoming event.

Game On: Who came up with the idea for 'Fuck This Jam'? Was it a collaborative thing? An epiphany in the bathroom? What was the inspiration behind this?

Ismail: Fuck This Jam came to be when both me and Fernando Ramallo were visiting sci-fi/horror movie festival Fantastic Fest for its gaming-event Fantastic Arcade in Austin, Texas. After another amazing day at Fantastic Arcade, we met up at Austin’s “official indie bar” Yellow Jacket with some local developers and festival-goers. As things go, we had a table full of interesting people like Faster Than Light developer Justin Ma, Mirror Moon’s Pietro Riva and The Stanley Parable’s Davey Wreden.

Fernando mentioned making games in genres he doesn’t like as a good design practice, I jumped on how that should be a jam and seconds later, Fernando and I had formed the core idea. We discussed the whole jam with the entire table, defining the constraints and rules. Eventually, Pietro came up with the name and Fernando and I looked at each other and said “Let’s make this happen”.

On a more general note, what goes into the planning of a game jam; have you organized one previously? Could you tell us a little bit about what happens behind the scenes for such a thing?

Ismail: Neither of us have ever organized an entire game jam ourselves. Fernando organized a local venue during the Molyjam and a spur-of-the-moment jam at the waiting line for the Indie Game: The Movie showing at GDC. Obviously, we’ve both participated in quite a few ranging from the Global Game Jam to Ludum Dare or recently, the other Vlambeer co-organized 7DFPS-jam, so we kind of knew what we needed. We decided to go overboard and do way more than is necessary. If this our first ever jam, we want it to be the best we can.

IGDA Victoria
Colton Phillips participating in the Global Game Jam 2012 from Victora, BC, Canada.

In other words, we’ve been trying to get jam locations, software licenses, t-shirts, press attention, participants – all sorts of things go into organizing a successful game jam. Too often do we want to participate in a jam and only find out afterwards that it happened – a side-effect of jams wanting to stay small or being introverted. We wanted to change that.

How do you plan to go about it with 'Fuck This Jam'? Will there be physical jams to go on with the online extravaganza?

Ismail: We hope so. Obviously, we’ll have the jam blogged live at the jam website at fuckthisjam.com, but we’re also working on making sure the online part is as accessible to people not jamming too. Often, jams are focused solely on making sure the developers are taken care of first and foremost. We want to do that, but also go the extra mile and make sure everybody that is interested in making games, everybody that wants to follow interesting teams making a game or everybody that just wants to hang out in a creative atmosphere can follow what’s happening.

Jams are more about the process than the product and more often than not, the only thing jams communicate outwards are the resulting games. That’s a shame.

What was the initial response you received to the idea? Was it positive or negative? Were there any naysayers?

Ismail: Response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people really engage with the idea. Obviously, it is a tough theme – some people are completely against the idea of working on something you don’t like working on. We guess it’s for the adventurous kind of the developer – the ones that dare to tackle something new and unknown. We were glad that very few developers disagreed with the idea of trying to introduce new things to genres by letting ‘outsiders’ make games in them. The most difficult thing seems to be coming up with a genre you dislike.

The thing that surprised us the most is the amount of healthy discussion among developers the jam has created. There’s been a lot of conversations on what genres people dislike, how they’d approach designing for it, developers challenging others to explain the roots of design flaws in certain genres or games, etc. It’s been super interesting to watch.

On a personal front, what genres do you both hate most? Are there any games you can't imagine yourself making?

Ismail: Fernando is hoping that he has enough time to help with the jam AND actually make something, but he’s keen on tackling the world of casino/slot machine electronic games and see how the idea of a game designed to cause addiction and blatantly squeeze money from the player without him or her noticing could be approached with good ethics. I can’t imagine myself making a racing game or an interface-based minimalistic roguelike. If I have time between all the organizing, I’ll definitely have a crack at those.

Rami hates racing games, so here's a piece of promotional art for the recently-released Need For Speed: Most Wanted game. Vroom vroom.

Thus far, has anyone expressed distaste for any genre in particular?

Ismail: Oh, the genres people have been picking have been far and wide. Originally, racing games, sports games and social games seemed to be the most popular picks, recently some new genres have been popping up. Shooters are popular, but since a lot of developers already tackled shooters in the 7DFPS-jam, they’ve been searching for other interesting things to do.

Is there anything in particular that you're hoping to achieve with this game jam?

Ismail: We hope that someway half through, someone will smash their table and scream "why the fuck am I making a social game?!" We hope that someone will be as amazed at what they made as I was when GlitchHiker was done. We hope that something interesting happens, that some of the games move on to be successful full releases, or that developers are amazed by the games they wouldn’t have created in their day-to-day work . But most of all, we hope that through utter ignorance for conventions and hate for the established rules of a genre, beautiful things will happen.

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