Continuing Gamasutra's 'Road To The IGF' feature, we talk to Cactus Soft developer Jonatan Söderström about his 2008 IGF Excellence In Visual Arts and Excellence in Audio finalist Clean Asia!, a uniquely-presented and stylish vertical shooter.
Known for his broad variety of small freeware games, Swedish designer Jonatan "Cactus" Söderström says that much of his work is "small experiments dressed up as games." He borrows elements from titles he admires and builds on their mechanics, and with Clean Asia, he aimed to elaborate on traditional shmup mechanics by adding an original, polished visual style.
What kind of background do you have in the game industry or in making games?
I have no background in the industry, I've simply been making freeware games for the past four or five years. It wasn't really until recently that I started taking it seriously. At the time of writing, I've created about 25 different games of various genres - although mostly shoot-'em-ups, for some odd reason. I was never really into playing shoot-'em-ups until I started making them. But now I quite appreciate how simple and fun they are.
What was your motivation to create a game like Clean Asia!?
$200. I was making the game for a competition where I could (and did) win two hundred bucks. It was the first time I ever won any money. The competition was held at shmup-dev.com, and the task was to create a shoot-'em-up game with an autofire function included. So I did.
I really wanted to win, but I knew I couldn't create a game that looked like your average polished shooter, so I tried to make it as original as I possibly could, while still being fun and interesting to look at.
Where have you drawn inspiration from in its design and implementation?
I had played a game called 'Nvaders - it was basically a Space Invaders-meets-Warning
Forever game. The small Space Invaders sprites had been blown up, and each pixel had turned into a separate piece of the enemy. Some pieces were cannons; others were just static. When you destroyed a piece, it left a little energy power-up that you could absorb and then launch back as a charged shot.
I really liked the idea, as it allowed you to destroy the enemy rather fast - as your power grew, the more destruction you dealt. However, the game felt slightly rushed and a bit incomplete, so I decided to steal a bit from it and make my own thing centered around a similar mechanic.
At one point, a pal of mine told me about another shoot 'em up where you could pick up the enemies' guns when they died, which gave me the idea for the ships in the Korea stage. They have turrets that the player can shoot off and pick up to use against the enemies.
So, basically, I merged a few ideas and add new elements to them so that they become something new.
What sort of development tools did you use to make it?
I used Game Maker to create the game, and a few DLLs to play the music.
What do you think the most interesting element of your game is?
The gameplay mechanic where you can use an enemy against itself. One of the pilots has a ship that can thrust straight through hostiles and blow them up. His ship can then attract the debris created from the destruction and fling it at the next enemy. That was probably the most creative bit in the game. I also think the music and style of the graphics makes the game a somewhat unique experience.
Did you work totally solo on Clean Asia!?
Yes. Well, I did get it playtested by a few of my internet pals, but I did all the creative work, aside from the music, which I stole from the net. I contacted the guy who had composed the music, and he really liked the game and was totally okay with me using his songs in my games.
What has the development process been like?
It was fairly smooth. The contest I was developing the game for lasted about four months, and I actually started making a totally different game at first. After almost two months, I decided that I wasn't happy with what I had created so far and thus I started a new project, which turned out to be Clean Asia!. I came up with the concept at that point, but the majority of the game content was created the last two or three weeks before the deadline.
If you had to rewind to the very start of the project, is there anything that you'd do differently?
Not really. Maybe I could've used the time more efficiently, added a tutorial and difficulty options, but overall, I'm very happy with the way the game turned out.
What are your thoughts on the state of independent game development, and are any other independent games out now that you admire?
Can I pass on this one? Hmm, I'm not sure. I think there's quite a few games being released that I find interesting and worth checking out. But I spend a lot more time developing my own creations
than I do playing others'. I'm hoping that there will come a wave of more adult-oriented games soon, and by that I don't mean porn, but rather games that aren't targeted even in part at kids.
Games I admire... Flywrench by Messhof and Syobon Action were two recent favourites. I also had a lot of fun with Kloonigames' Crayon Physics, and Tekkyuuman by Ikiki.
You have 30 seconds left to live and you must tell the game business something very important. What is it?