Making games is traditionally a time-consuming affair. Though independently produced projects can take significantly less time to turn around than games with million dollar budgets and huge teams, they still often require many months to several years of solid work to finish. For Swedish indie developer, Jonatan “Cactus” Söderström that’s simply too damn long. He’s the game development equivalent of a machine gun, firing off large volumes of small games as quickly as he can create them. Not all hit their mark, but their overall effect is surprisingly potent. Cactus enthusiasts can continue to expect a steady barrage of hyper-speed gaming oddities this year, but he also has some heavier ordinance in the pipeline that promises to deliver one hell of a payload when it drops.
“I’m not very patient,” he says. “When I come up with a game idea I kind of want to play the game that I’m imagining, so I rush myself to complete it as soon as possible. I also know that if I don’t finish the game fast, it might never get finished as I’m bound to come up with another idea that I want to try sooner or later.”
In the five or six years he’s been making games, Cactus has worked on more than 200 projects. About 40 of those have seen the light of day so far, and numerous others are in various stages of completion. Though a small handful of his more elaborate creations – like Ad Nauseam 2, Mondo Agency, Clean Asia! and Protoganda: Strings – have taken a few weeks to a month or more to create, the average length of actual development time spent on each game ranges from four hours to several days. Cactus’ development tool of choice, Game Maker, makes his rapid-fire game design ethic even faster.
“The first thing that grabbed me about Game Maker was that it promised that you didn’t need to write any code to get your projects going,” he says. “Nowadays I really like how Game Maker saves me a lot of time. Making a basic platform engine from scratch takes no more than a minute or two. It’s not all days that I feel very creative, so it’s a real blessing that I can get so much done whenever I’m in a good mood for it.” Though recent forays into Flash development will soon result in some web-based Cactus games, he plans to continue using Game Maker to make games for as long as possible. Making a game using the program may be easy; making a good game is a challenge, he adds.
Despite the large volume of games he’s churned out in such a relatively short time span, Cactus packs as much quality into his games as he does quirkiness. Most of his projects fall along the weirder end of the spectrum, since he frequently experiments with unusual game mechanics, strange characters and outrageous story concepts. “I’ve always been a fan of the bizarre, especially things that go beyond the boundaries of your own imagination,” says Cactus, who’s fascinated with films by David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky. Such influences are readily apparent when playing his adventure-heavy projects, particularly the plot-driven work found in the Mondo games – a series of eerie, illogical first-person puzzlers designed to mess with players’ heads.
“Mondo Medicals tried to deceive the player. It gave false instructions, gave false impressions on how to solve puzzles, and creeped you out by putting you in really claustrophobic environments,” says Cactus. “The second one (Mondo Agency) actually gave you real hints and instructions, and the levels themselves could sometimes be slightly confusing until you understood how things worked. The atmosphere is also more agoraphobic, with lots of open spaces and lots of edges to fall from. The third game (Mondo Wires) will mess with the player by playing with space, time and vision. Weird things might happen when you look the other way. Hopefully it will make people feel a bit paranoid.”
Altogether, the trilogy will be called Mondo Nation. The third installment will be bigger than the first two games and equally as strange. Instead of being divided into individual levels, Mondo Wires features a more seamless environment to explore – one that will sneakily warp and twist to trick you when you least expect it. Cactus says this will be the first game in the series to have an actual inventory. You’ll pick up and use other items besides a gun, including a phone. The game’s theme revolves heavily around dreams and an escaped serial killer and will reveal new puzzling details about the Mondo world. Cactus has been working on it off and on for quite some time now and said when the game is released depends on how much inspiration he can muster to wrap it up.
Another major project in the works, Brain-Damaged Toon Underworld, will be the biggest game he’s ever made and possibly the one to win the “Lengthiest Cactus Development Cycle” award. The colorful and peculiar platformer is a collaborative effort for Lo-Fi Minds – a Swedish indie development studio he formed with Ville Krumlinde. Unlike the bulk of Cactus’ other games, this project still has substantial amount of time left in the oven before it’s ready to go. In the meantime, he’s got numerous other smaller games on simmering on various burners.
“I’m working on quite a few projects at the moment,” he says. “A flash remake of Insect Invade 2 with some gameplay and graphics changes. A sequel to Shotgun Ninja that has a pretty decent plot and a more coherent game world. I also have a few projects that deal with time or music as core concepts, but I don’t think I can say much about those without spoiling anything.”
There may be an undetermined amount of time left to wait until Cactus unleashes his bigger projects, but rest assured he’ll deliver plenty of free, bite-sized gaming weirdness for us to digest in the interim.
Nathan Meunier is a freelance writer, a regular contributor at The Escapist, and a die-hard indie gaming enthusiast. You can read more of his work at http://nathanmeunier.wordpress.com.