10 min read

We ask indies: Johan Gjestland about mobile industry, Fugl and flying!

In this Q&A Johan Gjestland talks about his game Fugl, mobile industry, singing a duet with other gamedevs and flying!

Johan Gjestland is making the amazing Fugl. Now he answers our questions! 


1. How long have you been making games?

Not long, just a few years. I’m actually a film maker by trade, so gamedev is just a hobby for me, although I hope to do it full-time in the future. I love the interactivity of computer games, and the the creative process making them is so hands on and fun. I feel the medium is in it’s infancy if you compare it with an established medium like the novel or even films, so there is so much to try out and experiement with.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

I don’t really find ideas for games, I just have some games I want to play and I can’t seem to find them anywhere. It’s very frustrating as I download a lot of games, but I usually don’t like them very much, or at least lose interest very quickly. So I try to make them myself. I spend a lot of time just experimenting and tinkering. Sometimes I take a break and an idea suddenly just forms in my head. It’s hard to explain, but my creative process is very much about just being hands on and iterating again and again until it clicks.

3. Fugl is a flying game in 60 fps featuring procedural voxel terrain... Where did its idea come from?

Since I saw the first Microsoft Flight Simulator as a kid in the 80’s, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of simulating flight. But it’s been very frustrating also, as most flight games focus on technical simulation and shiny graphics, and not on a good feeling of flight. So I’ve been trying to make my dream game and I’ve done a lot of research in the process: What I figured out is that a sense of scale is very important for perceived speed and a rock steady, buttery smooth 60 fps is a must for a proper immersion. To get a great sense of flight you also need a lot of stuff zipping close past you in theee dimensions. Voxels are great that way, as they are not restricted by an height-field, so you can have caves and overhangs and in general much more interesting terrain. The procedural aspects is just something I’ve always been into and it’s a lot of fun to play with. It also makes the level-design much easier as I don’t have to place the individual blocks, just come up with some nice rules for it. It’s so much fun tweeking procedural graphics and coming up with new functions and rules. An added bonus is that you’ll get a lot of replayability as each level can be regenerated very easily with another seed. It keeps the levels fresh and interesting much longer.

4. Fugl's art direction is really great... Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which gamedevs/artists working with voxels do you like the most?

Thank you, but a lot of is not really art direction in a strict sense, but born out of a necessity of what’s works best to enhance the feeling of flight. As I’m targeting iOS, there is a lot of restrictions with the CPU & GPU. I need to keep things as light-weight as possible. So, I figured out that dropping textures actually doubled my triangle budget for the graphics. Instead of using textures, I’m trying to texturize with the coloring of the indivudual voxels. Triangles define space much better than textures anyways, so it was an easy choice. I also needed to bake the lighting, and here I took a big deal of inspiration from Minecraft. So a lot of the artistic choices is really more about cramming as much triangles onto the screen as possible. But of course I want it to look good, and I’m very happy when people tell me they think it do, but it wasn’t really about that, that’s just something that kind of happened along the way.

But I’m also lucky to work with a really talented artist, Marco Peschiera, that popped up in the Fugl thread at TouchArcade one day and started doing art for me. He has a great sense of color and has helped be tuning the palettes a lot. So we started working together as I needed someone to make voxel art. He had never done it before, but he rose to the challange like I’ve never seen. It was amazing. I knew I wanted voxel animation that was like pixel art, only in 3D. So no bones or traditional key-framing, just pure voxels. It’s very hard to do, but before long he was cranking out work like this.

In addition to Marco, there is a lot of talented voxel artists out there, but just to name a few:

Sir Carma. He got some amazing scenery.

Ben Weatherall, the artist behind Crossy Road has this great, condensed cartoony style that is hard not to admire.

Zach Soares has a distinct hi-res style and is really good at making traditional animations with voxels.

@ephtracy, who makes the excellent voxel editor MagicaVoxel. It’s such a great tool and the feature list just keeps growing and growing, it’s a tool as art in my book.

I also want to give a shout-out to the voxel dabblers over at reddit /r/voxelgamedev/, they are a friendly, small knit community that have you always can come to with all your voxel woes.

5. As you've stated in TA's forums: "Fugl is going to be premium without any IAP whatsoever!"... As a developer, how do you feel about current mobile market?

Oooh, it’s hard for sure. The golden age of the early days is long gone, there is no easy way to success any more. 95% of the market is free to play where the cost of aquiring a new player and their retention is the only two metrics that matter. It’s a big boys game. As i see it, you have four possibilites to make it the App Store as an indie:

1) Make a simple free-to-play twitch game that goes viral (Flappy bird)

2) Make a simple, quick to make free-to play game that is featured by Apple (Wrassling)

3) Make a free-to-play game that is featured by Apple again and again (Smash Hit/Crossy Road)

4) Make a premium game, unique and amazing, that is featured by Apple again and again (Monument Valley/Prune)

I’m aiming for 4), as I don’t like ads in games and I don’t like in-app purchases. As I’m an hobbyist, I’m not totally dependant on any income from Fugl, I can afford to make games just for the fun of it. Of course I can make the dream come true and start making games for a living if Fugl makes it in the App Store, but it’s not make or brake for me, I’m still learning and evolving. The most important thing for me is making games with my heart. I feel to many games are designed from a viewpoint of “what sells”. That’s not how you make truly great games. Personally, I would rather make art than money, a rather stuffy thing to say, I realize, haha. But I don’t really see myself as a game developer in a traditional sense: I’m trying to create mind-blowing experiences, the game aspect is not that important to me.

6. Any favourite feedback you remember at TA's forums? And also, any scoop you could share with us about Fugl?

There has been so much great feedback, it’s hard to single out any specific statements. I’m making Fugl with a core group of very dedicated testers and their enthusiasm has been so motivating for me. It’s important for me to feel that my game connects with people and what I’m trying to achieve is understood and appreciated. So I’ve had a really good time developing Fugl in the open, it’s something I would really recommend to other gamedevs.

7. Melodive, your previous game, was also about flying... Do you like flying? And what about flying games? Which ones are your favourite?

I love flying, always been fascinated by it. When I was little, my biggest dream was flying, I really thought I could do it, if I just believed it enough! Later I got paragliding license and flew for a while, but it’s no big mountains where I live now, close to Oslo, so I haven’t been doing that lately. I rarely play any flight games, as most of them either wants me to pay attention to instruments or going though hoops. The only flying game I play nowadays is Volo, an early access base-jump simulation. It’s pretty cool and have the same ambition as me in my flying games: Nailing that special feeling of flying close to the terrain at breakneck speeds.

8. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

That’s a difficult one. I follow a lot of game developers, so it’s hard to pick just three, but I would say:

1) Tom Betts who made Sir, you’re being hunted. He has a done a lot of extremely cool work with procedural and generative art, really inspiring stuff!

2) Sean Murray, for the trailblazing work he’s doing with No Man’s Sky. His team at Hello games is making incredible breakthroughs in the field of procedural generation with that game.

3) thatgamecompany, for their drive to push the medium of video games into unknown territory. Journey was a stunning piece of art and I’m really looking forward to see what they can come up with next.

9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I rarely play other games. I don’t have the time and I can’t seem to get into most games at all, even the critically acclaimed ones. The last game I really digged was Kerbal Space Program. The sense of accomplishment it that game is amazing, like docking in orbit for the first time, or landing on a far away planet.

10. One last random question. If you had to sing a duet with any other gamedev in the world... Which one would you choose and why?

Haha, that’s crazy! I do like to sing when I’m happy, but I sing really poorly. I imagine most gamedevs to be like that, so I think it would be extremely awkward. Since Phil Fish (I would love to see him sing) quit games, I think I will have to go with Notch. We'll have an enormous crowd, but he’ll draw all the attention away from me… ;)


*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!).

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