Dominique Ferland (a.k.a Dom2D) is a game designer and 2D artist from Canada. He makes lots and lots of things (I mean, just wow. And Tumblr addict too!). Now he answers our questions!
1. How long have you been making games?
I've been working on games for about 8 or 9 years now. When I was a kid I didn't know game design was a thing, even if I was doodling Super Mario Bros levels on paper and hand-crafting card games that were similar to Magic the Gathering. When I got my first contract for a game company it totally blew my mind that it was a job I could do! I started as a 2D artist but quickly realized game designer was the dream job for me, so I worked hard to get to that position. I worked for four years at a small company, making licensed games (Where's Waldo, Price is Right), which was a great learning experience. The company grew exponentially and the projects began to be unsatisfying for my growing hunger for game design, so I bought a couple programming books and learn Flash to be able to make games by myself on the side. I only made one or two, then I became a freelance game designer, doing contract work for many game projects. That lasted for four years, then I got a job offer from Tribute Games which was too cool to refuse!
2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.
It's a bit nebulous, really! It all comes from the fact that I think too much, always scribbling things in my sketchbook, exploring mechanics or characters or settings that I think would be fun to design. Ideas come from the challenges you give yourself, like a theme and a time constraint in a game jam, a client giving you a mandate or a license to follow, or the limits in resources you have access to. Coming up with a good game within that challenge becomes kind of a puzzle with many solutions, to which you can add a lot of creative or weird sub-ideas to make it even more interesting, original and fun. These days I am super busy with my day job at Tribute and the couple of side projects on my plate. I still work on smaller, more personal games on the side, and the challenge there is to design a game that I can design in a more relaxed way, on evenings and week-ends. That's the starting point for ideas I'm working on right now!
3. What do you think of game jams? (you have participated in lots of them!) Are they important? Any particular story you remember from one of these jams (weird bug, crazy feedback, etc.)?
Game jams are the best. Every game developer should do at least one jam per year. It's such a rewarding experience to spend a week-end or a few days, or even a few hours, focussing on a single creative thing, and have a little baby game at the end of it. Doesn't matter if the end product sucks, as you spent only a couple days on it and you're guaranteed to have learned something from its development anyway. If the result is good, then great! You have something to put in your portfolio, to show on Twitter, to bring to events, and you have an experience to talk about. It's so positive, when you go in knowing there is no pressure, having fun with your friends, with random people or even by yourself!
Making Diluvium with Les Collégiennes was quite the experience - I think it was my third jam, and we went in with a crazy idea of a game where you could summon any animal by typing its name, then see it merge with other animals and fight for you. I barely flinched at the question "but can we create assets for all the animals in like 2 days?" and ended up drawing all the animals. It was a great time for the artist in me, but also the designer in me - we had to find a style and a system that would make it possible to complete in such a short time. I can rarely take on epic challenge like this, and work on such a weird idea, yet we do every time we do a game jam.
4. Museum of Parallel Art is a game by Neverpants (“a brand new game development studio born from game jams”) you made for Global Game Jam. Where did its idea come from? Also. The game was really well-received by both press and players. Any favourite feedback you remember?
Making Museum at the Global Game Jam was pretty much a perfect experience. Pierre-Luc, Ian and I have been jamming together for a couple years now, and we've come to really understand each other and come in a jam with similar goals. We want to enjoy ourselves, build a game we have never built before, and stay very open to weird, inventive ideas that might pop during the jam. We were at our local jam site, here in Montreal, and the theme was announced as "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are". We immediately got out of the building and got a burger and a beer, and we started brainstorming.
We thought of a game about art appreciation, yet we had no idea how to qualify the player's reactions to art pieces in a game system. We realized that a computer was pretty bad at analyzing emotional input from a player, and scoring it or telling the player he succeeded or failed was out of the question in such an interpretive subject. So we thought, this should be a two-player game instead - players go in the museum one by one, give their input on a bunch of art pieces using cards bearing a variety of symbols, like a sun, a baby, a frowny face, a medal. When both players are done, they compare their choices and discuss the reasoning behind it. It made development super straightforward, as the game was just an environment for the players to view art in, with a very simple input system in which the players choose cards representing their feelings toward said art. Not much to design, not much to code! I spent most of the week-end gathering art submitted on Twitter and Tumblr, eating burgers and having a great time with my two best buds.
We didn't know Museum of Parallel Art would be such a social connector. When we started playtesting it with people at the jam, we were quite surprised by how the human element of the game really gave life to the game. Or was it the other way around? The first player would go in the museum, while the other player could not look or talk to them, then the other way around, which is weird - we call it a two-player game and we completely disconnect the players for a few minutes. But the last phase of the game is where both players return to the game and see the result - a simple recap, who played what card on what piece of art. There's nothing else in the game itself, yet this is the beautiful part of it - players start discussing what the art piece made them think, and compare their feelings and their choices by talking it out in a very friendly, oftentimes funny way. Someone shy would talk about their childhood memories with a painting of a pokémon. A couple would merrily laugh at how different their picks were. Even I learned things about my friends when testing it! We didn't know our little experiment would connect people in this way at all.
I might sound like I'm bragging with all of this, sorry! But making rich, positive experiences is all I'm striving for, and discovering the power of our own game definitely was fulfilling!
5. Without Question is a card game you made with Damian Sommer. Do you have some sort of elevator pitch for it? Do you have plans to release it in the near future? (We really want to play it!) Also, do you enjoy card games? Which ones are your favourite?
Without Question is a very simple card game, in which you add rules to other players like "Your wrists must always be touching" or "You're the only player who may touch the table". The game takes a minute to explain, then the players start playing cards on each other, quickly ramping up the chaos (and the laughter) by stacking rules on top of rules. You might end up with cards that, in total, make you speak with a lisp, forces all players to be in physical contact above the table, prevent you from touching a chair AND have you make a beat whenever you're not speaking. It's the good kind of silly fun that doesn't go overboard and is fun for everybody. I mean I designed this game with Damian, who's a very shy dude, and he keeps saying how playing Without Question makes it so much easier to be in a group and talk and be in physical contact with other players.
It's kind of awesome, so yeah, we're working on releasing it as soon as possible. We're talking to a publisher, but it's a long, stretched-out process, AND Damian and I have a thousand other projects, so it's not moving forward fast enough. If you really want to see it happen, tweet at Damian and I so we are reminded of it all the time!
6. Your art style is really interesting (wow, we love your doodles). Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most?
Thanks! It's a very dangerous question, we could be here all night! I'm a big sponge of inspirations, really, but if I have to pick I'd say McBess, Katsuya Terada, Jason, Zac Gorman, Ken Sugimori, Jeff Smith, and I could go on and on. There's also so much beautiful art being made right now by artists on Tumblr and Twitter and forums, like Timotheus Welman's charming characters, Noreen Rana's "Oh I'm just gonna post this here" amazing illustrations, Bryan Fukushima's doodle comics, etc.
In terms of game artists, there's a ton of super inspiring/intimidating guys and gals, like Amora B, Paul Robertson, Stéphane Boutin, Emily Carroll, Andrew Gleeson, G.P Lackey, Rekka B... It's a bit overwhelming to think about, I'm getting dizzy! I'd say the biggest influence from seing all the talent out there, is how it really helped me become comfortable with my style, and not try to copy or follow the current style that is "in" at the moment.
7. Game Squares is all about “tiny sneak peeks at games”. Where did its idea come from? Do you enjoy curating content? Any favourite content curator out there?
So I'll be honest and say that I'm a Tumblr addict, a digital hoarder of sorts. I do a lot of research and love collecting references related to what I'm working on. What I find is usually super interesting and I always think to myself, why not share everything with people? So when I was doing research on user interfaces and art styles for mobile games, I created PlayPeep, where I post screenshots of games I usually take myself, showing title screens, menus, and gameplay parts of games. I started getting a bunch of logo design jobs, so I started GameLogos, a pretty straightforward collection of logos. Now I'm working at Tribute, making retro-inspired titles, so I just launched Super Secret Castle, where I post little audio and visual treasures from previous generations of gaming, like Turbografx covers and Gameboy Color soundtracks and arcade flyers and so on. I am collecting and organizing these things mostly for myself, and sharing these tools with others because it's quick and easy to do!
GameSquares stems from a similar situation. Whenever I release a game, or write a development blog post for a future one, it often feels like throwing a bottle into the sea. There should be more eyes on everyone's game projects, and even with sites like Tigsource and Pixel Prospector, there's still lots of room for promoting games. I spend a lot of time on forums, on Twitter and on Tumblr, mostly as a pair of eyes absorbing all the wonderful stuff other people do, so I started, again, collecting screenshots, and because I felt more people needed to see what I stumbled upon, I decided to post everything on a Tumblr. Indie game sites will often put off a cool-looking in-dev game because there isn't much to say.
Places like Indiegames.com will probably not write an article about every new screenshot of your game. I decided I'd just post screenshots with a link to its source and nothing else, making it super quick for me to share, but also really noise-free for people to look at - you decide if you wanna know more about the game from a quick glance. It's weird how talking about it makes it seem a bit pretentious, but it's not, it's really about simplicity.
8. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?
Argh! I have to go with Capy first, makers of Super Time Force and Sword & Sworcery. The games these guys are making are super creative AND are commercially successful. Watching them develop STF and Below is super inspiring.
If I had to follow only 3 developers, one of them would have to be Devine Lu Linvega (also known as Aliceffekt) - a really clever pick as he has TONS of projects running at all times! He has recently grown into a habit of finishing and releasing most of them, too, which is fantastic! He and Rekka B have recently made the gorgeous and intriguing Oquonie, an innovative puzzle game that is bound to break your brain a couple times.
It's very hard for me to pick only 3, but I'd go with Droqen for the last one. His games are incredibly imaginative and innovative - he brings something new to the table with every game he makes, from new physical ways to interact with a game to elegant mechanics you learn to play with by actually playing the game. He's definitely a game design mastermind to follow closely!
9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
I play a lot of games, but rarely spend a ton of time on each one. I got hooked on the Souls games like a lot of people, but I spend most of my time playing smaller, shorter games, or playing multiplayer games and board games with friends. Recently it's been all about TowerFall, probably because it might be the greatest game of all time.
So yeah, I've been playing a bunch of A Wizard's Lizard, 1001 Spikes, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Fract, Sportsfriends, The Yawhg, Out There Somewhere... Oh I'm also playing through La Mulana, very very slowly. That game is infuriating and extremely satisfying at the same time, a feeling similar to the one I get in Dark Souls.
I've also been dabbling into retro games I had never played before, on previous Nintendo consoles, games like Live A Live, a japanese collection of short stories told in a JPRG format, Solar Jetman, kind of an advanced Moonlander game with upgrades and exploration, and other weird, fun titles I've found. It's such a giant source of inspiration for game mechanics and game elements that is often left aside for some of its outdated parts.
10. One last random question. If you could rewrite any classic book and turn it into a gamebook, which one would it be and why?
I immediately thought of Dune for some reason, maybe because its universe is so interesting. But sci-fi and fantasy are too easy to translate into cliché games, so let me give you a more thought out answer. I think Metamorphosis would be an interesting interactive fiction, having to deal with the sudden change and facing the world as you've become. Or maybe I'd go with The Invisible Man and its morality questions, playing with the freedom given by invisibility. Or maybe Robinson Crusoe would be due for a comeback, in this era of survival games?
There are a few favorites of mine that have been done before as games that I would love to see done better, like Alice in Wonderland, Dante's Divine Comedy or H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.
Oh and the Lovecraft lore is always tempting, of course!
*We Ask Indies is an initiative by Beavl, an Argentinian independent game studio putting some teeth into videogames. You can check all the interviews here (caricatures are made by amazing artist Joaquín Aldeguer!).