Ten Questions With… Niklas Hansson (Defrost Games)

Ten Questions With… Niklas Hansson (Defrost Games)

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We played through the mind and space bending puzzles of Project Temporality a while ago and it impressed us enough that we had to find out more. Fortunately, Niklas Hansson from Defrost Games was willing to give us some insights about this unique title, so check out what he had to say.

Can you give our readers a quick introduction of yourself and the studio?

Hi I’m Niklas Hansson the founder and Producer at Defrost Games. I have been working in the PC games industry for over 17 years now, ranging from being a Software Development Manager at Massive to creating and running Defrost Games. On Project Temporality I am responsible for the Game design, most of the code and the planning. The studio got started when I started to feel bored of the big blockbuster productions that turned game making into a chore; we wanted to get back to the part where a game is about an idea. At the moment Defrost consist mostly of ex-students from the Game Assembly a game dev school I have been working at as a teacher.

How did the idea for Project Temporality come about?

I would say one of the biggest inspiration from Project Temporality comes from the little web game Cursor 10, a brilliant game where you have a tower to climb and you get 10 characters, each with a limited amount of time and you have to try to get as high as possible. Also a lot of inspiration came from an internal time manipulation based Shoot ’em up, which is still on hold however.

But in the end we just wanted a game that allowed you to play around with time. And create a small 6-month project that we could release to test the waters, that was 4 years ago….  But the gameplay kinda grew just from that simple idea.

What are the games that influenced you and how?

Cursor10 was a huge inspiration as the idea of cooperating with yourself was quite unique and interesting, but also flawed in implementation. Every character starts at the bottom of the tower which makes for a lot of boring repetition and limits possibilities, so we wanted to be certain that we could spawn a new clone anywhere, anytime and really literary turn all the 4 dimensions into your play field.

Portal must also be mentioned since it basically invented the first person puzzler genre and opened the doors for games like Temporality.  It was also a great inspiration for pacing as it’s expertly paces with the player getting equal amounts of reward and frustration throughout the game.

What features of Project Temporality are you the most proud of?

The timeline functionality. To actually be able to go seamlessly forward and backward through time in full 3D hasn’t been done before, probably because it requires you to create an entirely custom rendering engine and everyone is using Unity or Unreal these days. But seriously that’s the thing that I feel most proud of gameplay wise too, because it makes playing the game so easy and simple. Anywhere any time you want to go, you can just do it. It also opens up a new set of complexities, suddenly where you spawn the clone will matter and not only that you do it, we have entire puzzles depending on this difference.

Of course, creating a custom engine that can create the visuals of Project Temporality is also a thing of pride, we can honestly set it beside UE3 games or Unity games and say that it looks better from a technical perspective, but it has been a lot of work. Physically based rendering, global illumination, not to mention the shadows which are all real-time all the time 🙂

What was the biggest challenge while creating Project Temporality?

Managing an indie team where people are working weekends and evenings compared to handling a normal company was easily the toughest part. Especially as it can take up to three months to get a basic level put together due to lack of manpower which made it really hard to iterate and improve. We have things we would have wanted to fix in the game that simply wasn’t possible due to not having people available with that expertise.

Of game production it was the timeline system, making certain that everything is replayed the way it should without acting like a canned performance (like braid where a clone can jump on where a platform existed in his time) was really tough but it also allows for some cool paradoxes where the same character will perform different actions in the normal 4 dimension depending on a fifth dimensions (the math gets hairy but the player won’t view it like this).

What aspect of creating the game was the most fun?

Playtesting hand down, because it allows you to finally sit down and see the results of all your hard work. Working on a puzzle game you have no clue what works or not as you know the puzzles, but watching the smiling faces of the testers we knew we had something special. It is also so rewarding just to see people experience your hard work. However, perhaps the best part is that if you observe closely you will come away with a list of small things that each makes the game just a little bit better.

Project Temporality is your first Steam release. How did you find the experience?

Coming into a Steam release you have a lot of expectations, you have read that the median Steam game sells 50 000 copies and only the worst of the worst sells less than 10 000. People make posts about how launching on Steam singlehandedly saved their company. Sadly it’s not like that anymore, Steam has been flooded with games and while getting on steam is a good convenience it will not make or break your game in the same way anymore.

There are a lot of devs on Steam now trying to figure out how to make it work with the new systems people getting the same amount of views, but some games just not selling and everyone tries to figure out what to do. The truth is that Steam can be fantastic if you make it into the curated areas, but for us it was a brutal reality check that the figures people used to post and the percentages of their sales people say comes from Steam are completely different now compared to a year ago

What are the future plans for Project Temporality/Defrost Games?

We would love to do a DLC and even a follow up for Project Temporality, there are so many mechanics that are in the code that didn’t make it into any of the levels of the game and so many ideas that didn’t make it into the puzzles. We felt that we barely scraped the surfaces of what can be done with the concept.

At the moment we are however working on our next project, Dead Strains which is already 7 months into development. It’s a simulation based sandbox experience best summarized as “Fight and Win World War Z… as the Zombies”. In Dead Strains you are cast as the scientist who created the zombie virus.  You create and evolve your virus using our DNA based level up system where you research and splice genes together to create your own unique zombie strains.

We want the player to experience a living breathing simulated world (It’s like the Sims… with zombies). The humans are not there to be zombie meat however, they live in the world and interact with it and each other, from communicating to spreading new knowledge on your zombies and how to defeat them, to building new defenses, organizing their resistance or even planning their counterstrike.  All decisions from what abilities you evolve, what knowledge survivors escapes with and where you attack adds up and changes the world. This is a true zombie war simulator.

What is the most unusual thing on your desk right now?

It’s probably our Scrum spear. All tasks that people do at Defrost are written on a post it note and put on our white boards, so we can quickly see who is working on what and measure progress. However, when a task is done it is usually thrown away and another one goes up, this way people don’t see the progress of the game except when turning to excel sheets. So we purchased a sharp iron spike with a base that keeps it upright and every time you are finished with a task you get to impale it on the spear. This both gives a dramatic end moment to the task, but it also allows us to see all our work as the number of notes stuck on the spear grows and grows in a very visual way.

Anything else you would like to add?

I think we as game developers have to wake up and start taking some responsibility for what we are doing. I’m not saying we are creating murder simulators because we aren’t, but war is a horrible, horrible thing and a lot of us are glorifying it as our job. I am afraid we will soon have drifted so far into violence that it will get really hard to go back, but think for a minute; does seeing a person being decapitated with realistic looking blood flowing around really add to the game? We don’t need to stop making these kinds of games, but we need variety just like films and books. There is an entire world of possible games we can make full of unexplored blue oceans, so go out and find a way to make something special and different instead of being stuck in another game where you kill realistic looking people.

And for the gamers, those blue ocean games will never be as polished as the next Call of Duty, but think about how the world would be if the only kind of movies that existed was the Expendables and Transformers. People out there are trying to make a difference but they will need your support, in a very real way you are voting with your wallet and at the moment it’s sad to see small indie teams of 2-5 people being judged on the same criteria as big AAA productions. This industry needs a change and the so called indie revolution at the moment is just a beginning, we need to keep pushing on towards a more diversified game culture.

The fact that people are writing huge articles about whether you can be a man,female,gay,straight,black or white in the latest “Run around and kill” adventure game, but so few are instead writing about what games can become and how much we have left to explore scares me.  Of course, the big AAA companies do have the budgets to be inclusive and should. But these kinds of discussions currently overshadow the ones about how much of the possibilities inherent to games we are so far ignoring to explore. Which makes me sad, we all need to try to help our medium grow as it is still in its infancy.

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