Indie Developers Showcase 2010
Indie Developer Showcase, Day Four: Mondo Agency

Jordan Deam | 28 Jan 2010 21:00
Indie Developers Showcase 2010 - RSS 2.0

imageWelcome to Day Four of The Escapist's Indie Developer Showcase, a five-day celebration of the individuals and small teams who are making a big impact on the games industry. Each day we'll feature a new developer and new games to play, so keep checking back throughout the week for more indie goodness! To see the full list of developers, click here.

The first thing you need to know about Cactus, aka Jonatan Söderström, is that he's more interested in novelty and quantity rather than quality. Cactus has released over three dozen games in the last few years, all freely available on his website. Listed next to each one is the amount of time it took him to produce it; most clock in at under 48 hours. As you'd expect, these aren't the most polished designs out there, but what they lack in slick visuals and pinpoint controls, they make up for in creativity and unbridled weirdness.

Many of Cactus' designs are new takes on the shmup genre, but two of his games stand out. The first is 2007's Mondo Agency, a primitive first-person puzzler that has you stumble through a world of barely comprehensible talking cubes, bottomless pits and vast expanses of empty space. The other is Tuning, an as-yet unreleased (and IGF nominated) platformer that contains more ways of messing with your perceptual abilities than a trunk-load of Hunter S. Thompson's luggage. The Escapist recently spoke with Cactus about these two titles and game design in general.

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The Escapist: You've already created more games at 24 than many developers have created at age 50. Are they just lazy, or do you have some kind of game development superpowers?

Cactus: I don't really know why game developers often decide to make few games instead of many. At some point in time, it was decided that games have to last about ten times longer than a movie. Sure, I'd love to make a game that lasted 14 hours, or whatever the standard is for a commercial game. But to be honest, I doubt it would be worth the effort.

I don't think any of my games would benefit from being that long, and I think it's very likely that I would trail off at some point during the development time. And since I don't have any strict goals as to how long my games should be, I can easily finish a game off when I don't feel that it interests me anymore. That doesn't mean that someone who takes three years to create a game should be considered lazy in comparison, probably just more focused and patient.

TE: Many writers have described the atmosphere of Mondo Agency as "Lynchian." Has David Lynch's filmmaking actually influenced your designs?

C: I love a lot of things that David Lynch has done. He is my favorite director. I really like how he doesn't explain everything to his viewers, and how there often doesn't even seem to be any explanation for what happens in his movies. The feeling that there might be some kind of logic behind something completely illogical is very fascinating, and he manages to create very interesting moods by doing this.

There actually are a lot of things that people haven't picked up on in Mondo Agency, and I'm not sure anyone sees either of the Mondo games the way I do. But instead of telling people how to look at them, I'd rather have them find their own meanings and explanations for the events that occur while they play.

I've noticed myself that often when I listen to music and can't fully hear the lyrics to a song that I like, I will hear something different from what is actually sung. Often when I read the real lyrics, I'm disappointed and feel like "my version" of the song is superior.
I think it would be the same thing if I told everyone everything about the Mondo games; many of them would feel that their own interpretations made more sense to them than mine did.

TE: Is Mondo Agency a horror game? What kind of feelings were you trying to evoke in players?

C: I would say that it's a bizarre science-fiction game. Science is both fascinating and scary to me. There's so many things in life that we don't understand yet, and not understanding something makes it feel a bit threatening.

One of the things I find the most discomforting is space and the sea. I tried to achieve the feeling that I get from both of them in the Mondo games. The sense of having to wear a special suit in order to stay alive, and constantly hearing your own breath seems like it would be very unsettling. I also wanted to explore claustrophobia and agoraphobia. The first game take place in narrow corridors while the second one had infinite space surrounding the player. I think both create a sensation of loneliness, while at the same time you have no idea what could be lurking just outside your field of view.

I also wanted to make the player not fully understand anything in the game, from how to beat the levels to what exactly the few people you talk to are saying, nor what they mean. I'm especially pleased with the sense of there being some kind of logic behind how illogical everything is in the games.

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