games™ Talks With Cactus, aka Jonatan Söderström
While your average triple-A title can take anywhere up to two years to complete, Jonatan Söderström’s probably created three games in the time it takes you to read this standfirst. We talk to the Swedish developer, also known as ‘Cactus’, about his idiosyncratic and speedy approach to game design
What was your first game, and what inspired you to create it?
My first game was about a cucumber with a man’s head, jumping over a ball that bounced back and forth. It was just something I did when I was trying to learn how game creation worked. My first real game that I actually put some thought behind was called Illegal Communication. It was my biggest success up until that point. The idea behind it was that I should never re-use any puzzles or obstacles, so that the game continued to feel fresh as you progressed.
Which is your favourite of your games, and why?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. I see both flaws and elements I really like in most of the games I’ve released. Gameplay wise, I probably enjoy playing Shotgun Ninja the most. Clean Asia! feels like the overall most polished and worthwhile game, while the Mondo games come the closest to what I really want to create with my games. Tuning is currently a work in progress that I think might become the best game I’ve ever made, because it’s polished and does something I don’t think I’ve seen in any game before. And I just released a game called This Is Infinity, which I think turned out really well, but somehow people don’t seem to like it.
You’ve developed something of a reputation for being an extremely prolific and eclectic developer. From where do you draw your inspiration?
I try to draw inspiration from wherever I can find it. Usually it comes from whatever intrigues me. If I’m riding a train at night and see this other worldly image of a silhouette town rushing by outside the window, or see a bad science fiction film that has some really weird ideas, then that can inspire me to create something that somehow re-creates the feeling I get from those experiences. I tend to seek out entertainment that feels alien to me, something that lets me peek into someone else’s head for a while, and that makes me think in ways that I normally wouldn’t. I also get ideas when I play other people’s games and see things that I feel could be used differently to create something else that is interesting.
We understand that you employ a ‘Four Hour Game Design’ approach to your work. What’s the secret behind prototyping with such speed while still creating compelling titles?
Four hours is probably not ideal. I think a day or two is probably a good time frame. The secret behind it is that the more you prototype the more interesting your ideas will become. If you make fifteen different games, you will be experienced enough to know how to realise your ideas quickly and how to compromise if the results differentiate from what you had in mind from the start. It’s also extremely important to have an interesting idea when you start out. If you make a crappy game then it doesn’t matter how much you polish it, it will still be crap.
How long, on average, does it take you to complete a game?
On average I think it takes about three or four days. I tend to spend several days in a row working all day long on my creations, and whenever I tire of them I either finish them off or discard them. I wish I could spend a bit more time to make sure that each game I release is worthwhile, but when I lose my motivation it is really hard to continue.
So do you find it difficult to get stuck into long-term projects?
Yes. I wish I had a longer attention span. For one thing, it’s really hard to make a living off of creating really small games that usually only last about ten to thirty minutes. I set out to create something bigger when I started making games. Hopefully I will learn how to keep making small games while releasing some big ones as well.